From our inception, the Different Narrative team has been motivated by creating change for good. Giving back is in our genes, so we recently dedicated a morning to helping Newcastle West End Food Bank with sorting and packing in its warehouse. Our PR & Content Manager Patrick O’Kane reflects on a humbling experience.
Arriving at the Food Bank’s Newcastle warehouse, we weren’t sure what we were letting themselves in for. We knew we’d gain some in-depth insights into the work of the charity’s volunteers and the vast quantities of stock they were dealing with, but how that actually played out was a surprising and eye-opening experience for all five of our changemakers.
After receiving a safety briefing, we were posed a key question that got us thinking about why we were there, what the purpose behind our volunteering was and just why it’s so important for businesses like ours to do our bit to help out. We were asked: “What are your perceptions of and dealings with poverty?”
At 9am on a Friday morning, it really was one that got us all thinking, but soon we were sharing memories of our backgrounds. Each of the team shared different experiences and anecdotes from their upbringing and prior support systems around food, charity, and members of society who maybe haven’t been quite as fortunate as ourselves.
Before long we were put to work. Lining up with the four warehouse-based volunteers, we were soon working our way through several pallets of donated stock – from dry products like rice, pasta, tea and coffee, to tinned produce which included tomatoes, baked beans, fruit, vegetables, potatoes and tinned meats. Then there were additional provisions such as cereals, biscuits and extras including packet mixes, crisps, sweets and other delicacies that wouldn’t quantify as dried foods.
It was crucial for us to check the dates on every single item to make sure that, when the food was distributed, people would be receiving goods that were within their use-by date, fresh, and of a quality standard that anyone tucking into a meal should expect.
Once all of the pallets had been recategorised by food product, we then moved around the warehouse to start making up food packages, with different sizes being made up for single people, couples, and families. We were advised that the family parcels all have to be of a standard size because it’s impossible for warehouse volunteers to know whether the family consists of three people or seven – but they did mention that often the teams working in the community centres where the packages are given out will tailor packages at that point.
What was humbling for us was seeing that, due to the size of the demand, each package contained just three days’ worth of produce, meaning that, much of the time, people are still running short of food before their next weekly package collection.
During our four-hour stint, deliveries came in from supermarkets including Tesco and Morrisons, which contribute donations as part of an agreement made through the Trussell Trust. We collectively made up around 100–150 food parcels but were all too aware that by the next day those parcels would be quickly given out and a new batch would be urgently required. It really did highlight just how vital this service is.
Nothing is possible without the volunteers
We spoke to the warehouse’s regular volunteers, keen to better understand the depth of the food poverty crisis in our area and what leads people to give their time to help out long-term. It was quite shocking to hear that one in five people in the UK are living in poverty, and that in the Newcastle area alone the number of food parcels being given out has risen 39% in the last 12 months.
With almost 30 tonnes of product being distributed each month, the food bank team gave out 23,709 parcels between March 2022 and April 2023. Donations have reduced dramatically over the last year, with the food bank having to purchase around 80% of the food that goes into its food parcels. Each month, an average of 2,100 food parcels are distributed, which feed approximately 5,300 adults and children.
As demand rises, so too does the need for more volunteers. Whether you’re looking to help on your own initiative or representing a business, there’s ample opportunity to get involved and, with such a friendly bunch at Newcastle West End Food Bank, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome and plenty of banter throughout.
Our group was absolutely shattered after taking on the manual work for a few hours, but we all came away inspired, motivated and truly humbled at the work being done to help others fend off hardship and challenging times, and ultimately getting hands-on in putting food on the table for families across our city.