FRANCES, VOLUNTEER AT WYCOMBE FOOD HUB

Frances (centre in the picture) volunteers as a ‘food ambassador’ at Wycombe Food Hub and loves playing her part for such an upbeat, positive organisation.

Frances describes how she has seen it grow from a germ of an idea during lockdown to being a significant local response to food poverty:

What led you to volunteer? I have been a volunteer for various organisations throughout my life. When the lockdown started, I desperately wanted to do something to help. I signed up on various registers and was delighted with the personal touch offered by the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service – Sue there has been incredible in helping me find volunteering opportunities, including the Wycombe Food Hub.

What is Wycombe Food Hub? When I first volunteered for the Food Hub it was little more than a vision in the founders (Trevor Snaith and Khalil Ahmed)’s heads. Although it started small, it has been growing day by day ever since.

Back in June, the Food Hub had the use of a shed as a ‘warehouse’ for food collected from local supermarkets, some tables were provided by the Church and these were set up outside the Guildhall in High Wycombe. Since then, the Food Hub has moved into a shop in the Chilterns Centre in High Wycombe, and now uses the 2nd floor there as the warehouse for the Hub. The new premises were made ready for use by volunteers and are now equipped with fridges and freezers which expand the range of food we can offer. Trevor (far right in the picture) and Khalil are always negotiating pick-ups with more supermarkets and hopefully the Food Hub will be able to expand still further and open on more days each week.

What do you do as a volunteer at the Food Hub? I volunteer 2 days a week. My official title is ‘food ambassador’ so I set up the tables, welcome customers and help them find what they need. We open our doors as 12 noon, but we can see the queue forming from about 11.30, snaking (in a socially-distanced fashion) around the corner. I love talking to our customers.

What did you gain personally from volunteering? I love being part of such a positive organisation: everyone is always upbeat. All my fellow volunteers are amazing, and we have formed real friendships. The customers are always so polite and grateful. I have been struck by their forbearance, only taking what they need even if more is available.

What difference does volunteering at the Food Hub make? The whole Food Hub is run by volunteers and we make a huge difference to our customers, some of whom have literally nothing to put on the table. There’s no bureaucracy, no barriers, no discrimination – the Food Hub is open to anyone who needs to find food.

Unlike many Food Banks, the Food Hub does not need a referral – it simply asks for a small donation for the food, although if people can’t afford to donate, they do not go away empty-handed. Although it is only open for two hours a day on two days a week, it provides in the region of 300 bags of food each week, including fresh fruit and vegetables. The Food Hub is filling a desperate need.

Another important feature is that absolutely nothing goes to waste. The Food Hub takes in unsold food donated by supermarkets which would otherwise have been discarded. If we have anything left over after the shop has closed it is donated to the Refugee Centre, the YMCA or other organisations that provide meals to those in need. So, in addition to addressing food poverty, we are addressing food waste.

Is there a challenging aspect to your volunteering? The physical tasks aren’t a challenge but it is heart-breaking to hear many of our customers describe the hardships they are facing and the difficult decisions they have to make in how to spend what little money comes their way. They have my complete respect.

Would you recommend volunteering? Yes – I’d like to see loads more people volunteering as they would enjoy it so much.

Will you carry on volunteering? Oh yes – the Food Hub will carry on and I love volunteering there. I go in feeling great and come away feeling even better.

If you want to know more about the Wycombe Food Hub, what it does and how to support it, please see the website: http://wycombefoodhub.org/about/.

If you are are looking for a volunteering role, you can register your interest with the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service.

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Image courtesy of St Francis's Children Society