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Our Work With The Local Food Bank

Members of the Moray Local Group attended the Scottish Groups get together with Myles in November last year and one of the issues which was discussed was whether local groups could engage more effectively with certain group in their area and in particular we talked around food banks.

This struck a chord with me as since the downturn in oil prices, the economic impacts in North East have been quite evident. Following the meeting we contacted the local food bank, initially just googling to get the contact details and making initial contact via a phone call. The Manager of the food bank was very interested in looking at ways that he could promote the work of the food bank and also engage with groups with special dietary needs, so he invited us to visit the food bank.

The visit was really informative, first of all just in terms of the amount of organisation that is required in receiving, sorting, storing and managing food donations, secondly in terms of gaining an understanding of who the client base is, it can be very variable sometimes people are referred to the food bank via social services or via social care team to support them during a crisis, other people rely on food banks on a more ongoing basis.

In Moray quite a few of the food bank clients were young people who had come out of the social care system and were living independently for the first time or clients from family breakdowns often in hostel or bedsit accommodation where cooking facilities are limited. The other key aspect for the food banks in managing stock is the use by dates, items with longer dates are more useful as they are less likely to go out of date.

The manager identified that they have a staple bag which clients receive  containing basis such as milk, tea, coffee, baking potato, tinned tuna, tinned fruit, cereal, pasta or rice, soups etc. They also have an area set aside in the food bank store for special dietary requirements e.g. gluten-free, df etc. We discussed how we as a group might be able to support the food bank and we decided between us that we would make up a few ready made basic bags which have gluten-free alternatives in them which they can hand out to clients who require gluten-free food.

We assisted them by identifying on their basics list which staples were normally gluten-free anyway and could come straight from their stock shelf (e.g rice, tinned veg, tinned fruit) and then the rest we provided gluten-free alternatives for. In the first instance we provided them with 3 bags made up with a list on the side of the products included.  We dropped them off at the food bank and made an agreement that they could contact us when they had used up a few of the bags. Because it’s hard for them to predict when someone with a special dietary need might be referred we have an open arrangement with them which works well, they contacted us about a month later to advise they have a couple of new gluten-free referrals and so we made up another 3 bags to replace those used up.  

In the last few months it has been quiet as they haven’t had any specific gluten-free referrals but we have left the door open that they can contact us again if they get future referrals. We also included in the bags we made up contact details for the Moray Local Group and some basic information about Coeliac UK so that if the food bank user would like to get in touch with us or Coeliac UK then they know how to do that.

The costs of this were covered by the Moray Local Group - each bag costs around £7 per bag which covered the costs of the specific gluten-free items such as cereal, gluten-free pasta & sauce, gluten-free soups, stock cube, biscuits and the rest were supplemented by the standard items from the food bank stock.

Key learnings:-

  • Establishing a useful contact with the food bank manager is essential, they can then advise on their local arrangements and how you can best help;
  • Costs can be minimised by helping the food bank identify items from their stock list which would be naturally gluten-free;
  • Cooking facilities for clients may be limited;
  • Longer use by dates are helpful as referrals timescales can vary.

The food bank mentioned the work they have been doing with us in their Annual report at the end of last year and they seem to be really happy with the arrangement.

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