By Karen Barrass
True Food has a donation point for Readifood and donates the money raised by Ella’s Kitchen recycling to the charity. So I had a chat with Alison Peyton, the food bank’s Manager to hear a bit more about the organisation and how our donations are used.
Could you tell me a little bit about the history of Readifood?
Readifood is part of the Faith Christian Group and originally started to help tackle the homelessness crisis in Reading some 30 years ago when the Church provided sandwiches and a soup kitchen. Around 15 years ago this expanded to providing food parcels as there was a realisation that a growing number of additional groups in the community were financially struggling. And this wasn’t unique to Reading, across the UK more and more families and people were finding it hard to afford to feed themselves.
The number of volunteers and deliveries increased at Readifood and nationally there has been a huge increase in food banks. Readifood has been and remains an independent food bank and focused solely on Reading. It predates the Trussell Trust – a national network of 1,200 food banks. Readifood is part of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN).
How have things changed since you started?
I joined Readifood 10 years ago as the charity’s first designated food bank staff member. At that time we just had a small food bank in a garage and distributed 25 food parcels a week. In 2010-11 we saw steady increases in demand. By 2012, the huge austerity measures and changes to the benefit structure saw our numbers double – more than 50 food parcels weekly on average, and this went up to 80 in the winter.
Between 2012 and 2016-7 there were lots of consistent changes to the welfare structure and we just kept seeing more people – we’re now up to between 100 and 150 weekly food parcels. As austerity measures began to be relaxed, the Universal Credit system came in and that has had a huge impact. Reading was one of the trial areas and we began to see a huge increase in demand for food parcels from that demographic – almost 1:1. At the start of 2019 we were very busy, providing up to 150 parcels a week and by February 2020, this weekly number was up to 200.
What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on Readifood?
Lockdown in March 2020 brought different people with different needs to us – some people got government assistance – including everyone over 80, whether they needed it or not. Some people donated it straight back to us as they weren’t in need. We began to see people who had been furloughed or on zero hours contracts requiring food parcels.
At Readifood we always focus on those in financial need – that’s the essence of our selection criteria – not having money to buy your own food. All recipients of food parcels are referred to us, we have a small number of self-referrals. Some people with benefit issues or a small disruption to family finances may need short term support, others are more long term – such as those people referred by Reading Refugee Support Group and other refugee charities – as they have no recourse to public funds. And throughout the pandemic we have seen more people require food support in this category. Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrant workers who may have been rough sleeping or in emergency accommodation.
In the month of December 2020, for the first time ever, we delivered 1,050 parcels. Over the year, we delivered some 10,000 food parcels – 60% more than the year before. And all of this food is donated – whilst Reading Borough Council has given us some assistance, the vast majority of food in the warehouse has been donated by the public.
Throughout COVID we have developed a safe mode of delivery – and have actually advised other food banks how to do this too.
How do True Food’s food and cash donations help Readifood?
When you are referred for a food parcel it is delivered just like online shopping. This means we have the costs of running our vans – some are owned and some are leased. And the 3 members of staff that are fundamental to keeping Readifood going – especially given the massive increase in demand – are supported through these donations. All staff have previously been on benefits themselves and their work at Readifood has made a very positive change.
We have lots of demand for lentils, rice and chickpeas and True Food’s donation of these goods are really helpful in this respect – so this type of donation is always gratefully received. Thank you!
Is there anything else that True Food members can do to help?
We’ve seen a lot more volunteer offers throughout the pandemic and we’ve been a bit overwhelmed by it as we’ve been so busy. However, if any True Food members are interested in volunteering, please do contact us through our website and please be patient if you don’t hear back quickly. It will help if in your initial enquiry you specify what you might be interested in to help us allocate a job to you.