Volunteering at a foodbank during the coronavirus outbreak

23rd March 2020

 Sophia Badhan, 18, is an #iwill Ambassador, mental health campaigner and regular volunteer at a foodbank in Birmingham.

On Thursday morning, I was faced with a dilemma – volunteer at my local foodbank to help those most in need during the coronavirus crisis, or stay at home and keep myself and others safe. It felt like a Catch-22 situation. Most of the volunteers I work with at foodbank are over 70 years old and so I felt duty-bound to volunteer so that they could continue self-isolating. I would much rather put myself at risk than them. However, I am currently struggling with increased symptoms of anxiety and OCD, and venturing outside seemed like an almost impossible task. 

Our foodbank is one of the busiest in the area, we have on numerous occasions received over 80+ vouchers requesting urgent food supplies. It’s important to remember that each voucher does not always equal one person. Some of the vouchers we receive are for families of five or six, and so the real number of people accessing our services is in the hundreds.

We could not fail these hundreds of people, so my dad and I decided to go and volunteer.

We arrived at foodbank an hour and a half early to help prepare parcels. Our supplies were more limited than ever and many of the volunteers had rightly stayed at home, so it was non-stop. We prepared around fifty parcels before we opened to try and get ahead of the rush – these were gone in the first twenty minutes. For the next few hours we desperately packed food and distributed them to those who came through our doors.

We had adapted our set up following the Trussell Trust guidelines to minimise human contact, however this meant that we could no longer offer tea or a chat, which is what many people using our foodbank so desperately need.

Eventually, the only foods we had left were tomato soup and beans (which isn’t great if you’re not a fan of tomatoes!) and so we were forced to turn people away. Usually, we offer a parcel of food that includes sufficient nutrition for at least three days worth of healthy, balanced meals. You can’t make a meal out of soup and beans and it seemed unfair to offer this to some people, when others had received an (albeit small) variety of foods.

We received 113 vouchers – the highest number ever received by our foodbank. Seeing people panic-buying and emptying shelves really frustrates me. By unnecessarily stockpiling goods, those most in need and most at risk are the ones affected. We need to work together as a community and a collective people to protect the most vulnerable during this crisis. Pool resources with your neighbours if you can! Ask yourself if you really need two of the same thing. If you have extras, donate them to your local foodbank. We need to shift our thinking from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and support each other. We are better than this.

Don’t believe stereotypes you may be hearing about young people. For every young person who is not taking the situation seriously enough, there is a young person like me trying to do what we can to help those most in need. We will continue calling our elderly relatives, shopping for our neighbours and using social media to reach those most at risk until we no longer have to. The contribution that young people can make to our communities and to each other should not be disregarded. 

As the situation changes, it may not be the case that we can all continue to volunteer in person, and foodbanks across the country may suffer. If this happens, I hope that the government will step up to ensure that those who are vulnerable through lack of income – not just health conditions- will be able to access food supplies during this time.