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Putting food into stomachs
“FOR most of the people we see,” said David Hartridge, “it’s a case of not being able to put food in their families’ stomachs.
“We see broken men and women - blokes that feel emasculated because they can’t provide for their families; women who feel heartbroken because they can’t feed their children.
“The number of times people come to us almost in shame - this is their first time. They don’t want eye contact. They’re ashamed to seek out our services, but that’s why we’re there.”
When a person comes to work at the foodbank - David is in charge of 25 volunteers - they soon learn that p2 oviding food is only part of the job. Bolstering clients’ dignity and dispelling misconceptions are also vital.
Clients are not destitute; rather, they fall into the gap between the destitute and those who need never worry about having a roof over their head or where their next meal is coming from.
David, a foodbank volunteer before becoming project manager, admits to having been introduced to a world he knew little of.
“You start to realise that there is a good proportion of people in Swindon - perhaps 15 or 20 percent - who live very close to the edge.
“They don’t have enough money to meet unexpected crises, to see them through redundancy, industrial injury, relationship breakdowns, sudden expenses. We’re also seeing more people because of benefit changes.”
More than 100 people a week come to the foodbank because of one or more of these problems.
Foodbank clients are not the scroungers and other hate figures of tabloid cliche, but rather ordinary people whose finances are so tight that they’re unable to weather unplanned expenses. Many never forget the help they receive, and some come back to donate food or money or time once their finances recover.
The foodbank is part of Swindon Christian Community Projects, although clients are drawn from all faiths and none. David is a lifelong Christian who found out about the foodbank through his membership of the Gateway Church.
He was born in St Albans in Hertfordshire. His mother was a nurse and his father ran a financial services business.
David’s sister and brother-in-law, Pippa and David Morton, run a respite charity, Paul’s Place (www.pauls-fund.co.uk), which helps young adults. It’s named for their son, who died in 2008 of a brain tumour.
David doesn’t remember any strong early career ambitions. “I went to a college in Ealing to do business studies and spent 30 years working in the food industry.”
He specialised in promoting brands to stores, and worked for a variety of firms including Golden Wonder, United Biscuits and latterly Kerry Foods in Swindon.
He has some unusual stories to tell about successful brands and those that fell by the wayside. There was the time when he was promoting Pot Noodle and the less successful Pot Rice: “Then some bright spark in marketing came up with Pot Sweet. It was a kind of reconstituted apple crumble.
“That died a death...”
David also recalls bypassing a store chain’s contractual obligation to another firm’s waffles by coming up with round ones and calling them wheels.
Earlier this year, he was made redundant by Kerry Foods after 13 years, and this coincided roughly with the foodbank post becoming vacant.
“I’d been involved with Swindon Foodbank for about 15 months or so from the early part of last year as one of the trustee directors. I saw this as a great opportunity for me to work within the food industry but with a slightly different perspective.”
Foodbank clients are referred by GPs’ surgeries, the council, job centres, advice groups and similar bodies. They are issued with vouchers and directed to distribution centres where volunteers welcome them and issue enough food to last for several days. Food is donated by local shops and other organisations.
David sees his main duty as strengthening the food bank and ensuring it’s fit to help people in an uncertain future.
“There are three things that we need. The first is supplies of food, because without food we don’t have an offer.
“The second thing we need is more volunteers. We currently have opportunities for people to help us both in terms of frontline duties - in other words, supporting us out in the community - and other roles such as packing the boxes.
“Also, if there was somebody who could help us from an admin point of view, it would be great if we had somebody prepared to come in for two or three hours a day.
“The third thing we need is donors. There are two forms - one is organisations and individuals that supply us with food, and the other is that, clearly, in order to function we need cash.
“We’re looking at ways of raising funds. It could be somebody having a sponsored bike ride or function, or individuals donating £5 per month by standing order.”
Information about the foodbank, its work, opportunities for volunteers and how it can help people in need can be found at www.swindonfoodbank.co.uk
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