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Coventry Central Foodbank

Coventry Central Foodbank is part of a national network of over 100 Trussell Trust foodbanks . The project is an ecumenical partnership of (currently) seven city churches that have a passion to meet the mandate of Matthew 25:v 35:

“When I was hungry you fed me, thirsty you gave me a drink, naked you clothed me.”

The project is the distribution of nutritionally balanced food parcels containing foods such as tinned fruit, vegetables, meat and fish as well as pasta, cereal, UHT milk, sauces, tea, long-life juice, sufficient for three days. Volunteers based at church cafés around the city distribute the parcels. The food is supplemented by short dated food from Costco – fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, desserts etc., which are at the end of their shelf (‘best before’) date. It is a partnership across several churches: Mosaic Church, Holy Trinity Church, Queens Road Baptist Church, the Cathedral, Jesus Centre, St John’s Church, Westwood Heath and Vineyard Church.

Origins

I initially set up a debt counselling service in Coventry in May 2010 in partnership with Christians Against Poverty. As we visited clients we began to discover that the financial decisions that our clients were making very often translated into hunger.

Within the Christians Against Poverty process we can take clients into a shop once but beyond that we had no answer as to how to meet these needs – the Christian principles on which the Trussell Trust operate match brilliantly with those of Christians Against Poverty (“feed the poor, set the captives free” Luke 4). So we approached the Trussell Trust in late 2010 to see if we could become a partner.

At this point the area representative of the Trussell Trust advised that there were three other churches interested – the Cathedral, Holy Trinity and Queens Road Baptist church. We agreed that our church, Mosaic Church, would take the lead and by December we had already collected over 2.5 tonnes of food and we had a warehouse. By early January we had sorted, racked and weighed the food and trained referral agencies and volunteers. The food parcels were first distributed on the 21st January, 2011.

Assessing need

There was a demographic study of Coventry carried out in 2007 and revised in 2010, which signalled the problem of poverty. At the time, we honestly thought this project would just be a bolt-on to Christians Against Poverty with a low level of demand - well that proved to be wrong in every sense. Although we know that there are 60,000 people in Coventry living on or below the breadline (including 11,000 children) – there’s no extrapolation of this that can give any comfort as to the magnitude of food poverty in the city. But let’s imagine that 10% of this group are in real deprivation. That’s 6,000 people and each of them receives 10kgs in a food parcel and is fed 3 times. That means we need 180 tonnes of food per annum or 3.5 tonnes of food per week to make this work!!

We didn’t take any steps in advance to measure the church’s capacity to meet that need in terms of skills and resources. If you are mandated to do something by God then He provides the resources to make it happen. This may sound like foolishness in human terms but the reality of dealing with an amazing God is that He does just that. This is nothing short of miracle territory which means that despite the most outrageous volume of demands we haven’t failed to supply – and neither has He.

How the Foodbank operates

Clients are assessed and referred to us through a network of agencies around the city including Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, Social Services and Sure Start Children’s Centres who issue food vouchers which can be redeemed at one of the distribution points. On arrival, clients are given a drink and something to eat and, whilst the food parcel is being made up, we have a friendly chat as well, which often leads us to signposting them into another service such as debt counselling.

The project operates with a very large volunteer base of people willing to give a few hours to this regularly. At the moment we have one paid administrator and one van driver.

Now we have five distribution points at churches around the city, with two more joining us in September, and provide parcels to upwards of 150 people per week. They operate for two to three hours at different times through the week.

The project is continuing to grow. Over 1,500 people have been fed in five months. Four partner churches have become seven, and will soon be nine. Distribution points have been established throughout the city. Over 85 referral agencies have been trained and are sending clients.

The main leadership has come from the Board of trustees, the Mosaic Church, a consultation group of church leaders from the partner churches, me as Project Co-ordinator, and the Trussell Trust Area Representative.

Resources

At the start, we required premises – church cafes – to use as distribution points as well as storage space for the food. We had a CUF grant and numerous donations of food and money (for example, from partner churches) and volunteer time was essential.

At present, the current warehouse is far from adequate; accessibility and the potential rent for the premises are the primary issues. It is also only just big enough to deal with current stock levels required to meet current demand. We have been offered a derelict church building by the diocese, but honestly I don’t have the capacity at the moment to lead this sort of project.

We have a massive volunteer team and they are great. This is the kind of project which many people express a great deal of passion to be involved with. Say 30 volunteers for 3 hours per week (90 hours), plus my administration team’s time (3 X 16 hours), and including my own (1 X 30 hours). I would estimate around 200 hours per week, which calculated on the basis of minimum wage rates amounts to £1,200 per week. However I wouldn’t estimate the admin team’s time at minimum wage.

Nevertheless, the project needs paid staff. Volunteers are fitting in volunteering around other life demands and so are inconsistent. We have only one paid administrator and even she is not fully paid for the work she does, we will need to find funding for around 4 – 5 other roles just to continue this in into 2012. Conservative estimates to make this project really work put funding requirements at between £75,000 – £90,000 per annum.

We are not at all financially secure! That’s half the fun and most of the stress.

Non-financial help and support

The Bishop of Coventry is the patron of the Foodbank and Helen McGowan from the Diocese gives guidance and grant funding support. Other churches contribute food donations and volunteers and local secular organisations make donations of food from The Trussell Trust network of food banks have helped us in providing emergency stocks when we got really desperate.

The additional support we would like is large scale grant funding so I can pay my existing administration and distribution teams and get some key managerial roles filled.

Outcomes

We can measure our success in terms of feeding over 2,000 people in six months, distributing over ten tonnes of food. We have also attracted an unprecedented level of local and national press coverage, which is raising awareness of the issues.

Success factors

· The partnership of churches and their leadership;
· The support of the national network;
· The buy-in to the scheme of supermarkets, churches, businesses, scouts and referral agencies;
· The volunteers;
· The Bishop’s patronage;
· My core team, especially my senior administrator – most of them don’t stop simply because they go home;
· My wife who has had to undergo a radical lifestyle change to allow me to do this, but remains a constant encourager; . . . .
· . . . and God without whose favour none of this would be possible.

Main barriers

· Management skills within the team;
· Capacity of the administration team and me;
· Regular and consistent volunteering, though this is improving;
· Regular, consistent supermarket collections;
· Active financial fund raising.

The barriers are also the key challenges for the future. Effectively we have a small business whose demand has hopelessly outstripped the structures that its original business plan dictated would be required. What happens then is that you get some burn out and insufficient time to rebuild a new strategy for the larger organisation. Practically our office space is cramped and we are working two to a desk at the moment!! However, in early September, we are joining with the foodbank operated by Coventry City Mission to provide one joined up service to the city.

Summary

Is this project for such a time as this? Has something changed in society that has suddenly given rise to the need for a foodbank? Or could it be simply that we have always lived with ‘the poor’ but that at certain time during history the church has realised that it is mandated to meet social needs rather than just meet behind closed doors? And yes, the current cuts in the welfare state and the rising cost of food and fuel are helping to push people to a place where they need to resort to third sector support. But since October 2010 there has been a 50% increase in the number of Trussell Trust foodbanks – you have to believe that God is up to something very big and very special. We certainly sense it – every day has at least one ‘wow!’ moment.


Gavin Kibble
http://www.mosaicchurch.co.uk/pages/32-coventry-foodbank/content