09:00AM, Thursday 27 July 2017
The start of the summer holidays is usually an exciting time for families, but for some parents, the next six weeks will mean worrying about how they are going to feed their children, who would usually benefit from free school meals.
Last week Maidenhead foodbank, which is based in King Street, put out an urgent appeal for food so it can put together extra food bags for families over the holidays.
As I walk up to the foodbank with Ian, our photographer, at around 6pm on Wednesday, we can see the foodbank is a hive of activity.
There are about 15 volunteers here, some urgently loading foodbags into a car to take to the pop-up bank in Cox Green, and others restocking the shelves and packing bags for families.
The centre, which supports 200 people a week, is run by the Foodshare charity, and is
managed by Katie Hierons, Debbie Gee, Lester Tanner and supervised by Eileen Faulkner.
Katie is dashing about with a list of people who will be collecting bags of food from Cox Green.
“People receiving food bags are issued with vouchers by an independent agency, such as RBWM Social Services and Welfare Assessor, the CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau) and various other charities and churches," she explained.
“Most of the food which Foodshare distributes to people in need comes from supermarket drop-boxes and we buy fresh food with any donations we receive.”
In the corner, volunteers are marking and storing food which has been collected from the drop-boxes.
Everything must be labelled, and there is a stock rotation system in place on the shelves.
“We try and label and date it so if people are caught selling it we know where it has come from," she said.
“People have told us they would rather have drugs than food and that they’ve sold meat and cheese. Where can you go with that? All we can do is offer them food. We can’t judge people, that is not what we are here for.”
As we walk around the foodbank, Nissha Chettri arrives with a trolley of food from Tesco. She has been volunteering at the foodbank for five years and has seen a lot of change during that time.
“I’ve seen more and more people use the foodbank since I have been volunteering," she said.
Five minutes later another volunteer arrives with portions of frozen honeyed pork. Kelly Rowe is on a rota to cook batches of meals, and she will spend one weekend every month cooking.
A recipient of the foodbank named Sally agrees to speak to me as she is collecting her food. She lives in Windsor Road and has used the foodbank for many years.
She said: "I’ve been unwell for eight years. I would find myself not eating because there was nothing in the kitchen. Without this place we would be lost, they help us a lot."
In the course of an hour 11 homeless people drop in, and around 10 people pick up food for the week.
Everything has been thought of at the foodbank, even down to the 'Royal red' and 'Harrods green' carrier bags so people don't feel self-conscious about collecting food from the bank.
Katie explains a misconception the public has is that the foodbank is linked to the Kindness Shop, which is run by Sue Brett.
"The foodbank was set up by Sue Brett many years ago, but she took a step back about a year ago when it moved to King Street," she said.
"It's now run as a separate entity and it's much bigger and more efficient on its bigger premises.
"Sue runs the Kindness Shop which supports people in need."
Although there are a lot of volunteers that give up their time on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning, Katie says they are always in need of more to pick up the food collections.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Debbie Gee directly 07782 345935 if you can help.
The foodbank also has a section for homeless people to sit down, have a hot drink and a warm snack.
Debbie Gee looks after the area and stocks up on plastic cutlery and take away boxes.
"We have to give them food which you don’t need cooking facilities for, like corned beef, rice pudding, squash and nuts and dried fruit," she said.
“They don’t get much nutrition so we try to save dried fruits and nuts for them. I buy pies for them and can cook them in the microwave so they can have some hot food."
The microwave and the toaster were donated to the foodbank, and are used non-stop while I speak to Debbie.
She tells me she collects the small squash packets which the homeless can take away with them during the week.
"I wish we could open every day, but we need someone to physically be here," she said.
"We've got a good relationship with them and they trust us, but we have built up that relationship.
"We have to be realistic, we might not be able to offer them a roast dinner but at least we can offer them a steak pie."
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