BY Ryan McDougall | December 27 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

15-FOODBANK

For all those who are banking on us

Visiting a foodbank, Ryan McDougall discovers the behind-the-scenes generosity which is a lifeline to many

It’s just a few weeks until Christmas and volunteers at the Xaverian Missionaries’ Coatbridge Community Foodbank are scrambling around, making sure their generously donated goods are checked in, in date and ready to be bagged and given to the many families and individuals who benefit from the kindness of the local community.

A second unit next door has just been unveiled, temporarily donated by the council to the foodbank workers over the festive season.

The manager, Angela Easton, takes me through to the new unit amid the sound of delivery drivers carting in contributions.

I step inside. It’s like Santa’s workshop. Volunteers are sifting through hundreds of donated toys and placing them in corresponding categorical crates, to be given to kids who will joyfully unwrap them on Christmas morning.

 

Break-in

This time last year, the foodbank was ravaged as thieves ransacked the offices, stole toys, toiletries and confectionary—which was later found unceremoniously dumped outside the local Tesco.

I had thought that this would have been a crushing blow to the foodbank. And it was, at the time—but not now.

“We got a lot of press coverage because of that, and we did reach a lot of people,” Angela explained.

“As much as it was a really, really bad thing—it was horrendous, believe me, it was me that opened the door and found what had happened—but we couldn’t move out there for cars and people, kids coming in and giving me their Christmas money, oh my Lord!”

“It brought the community together,” added Margaret McGoogan, her colleague, while taking stock of various donations given to the foodbank.

Angela added: “The place was choc-a-bloc with people throwing money at us and bringing us their Christmas presents.

“It was bonkers! But as I say, as much as we are doing well now, it was a really bad thing. It was horrible, horrendous; but a blessing, if you could say that.”

Laughing, she added: “It’s a strange word to use, but it was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

 

A sad necessity

It’s true. The foodbank opened around four years ago, and has never been so full.

This, however, is a double-edged sword. On one hand it demonstrates that the Coatbridge community’s generosity and willingness to help others has grown, but it highlights the fact that the need for the foodbank has increased too, said Eric Brady, another volunteer.

Eric has been committed to volunteering since he retired almost 17 years ago, and has also helped out at a local hospice on a weekly basis.

He got involved with the Coatbridge foodbank back when it started in 2014.

“The foodbank here is unfortunately a necessity now,” he explained. “There always seems to be people getting added on, week after week, month after month.

“Some weeks we can have a quiet week; the following week makes up for it, and I think an awful lot of it’s to do with this system where the changeover with their benefits is taking place.

“There are people who are going to be without money for quite a few weeks and would never even have thought about the foodbank until that happened to them.

“Now they’re feeling, ‘I’ve no money to buy food, I need to go to the foodbank.’”

Stigma

While heading to the foodbank earlier that day, I got lost. I spoke to a local woman who happened to be heading in the same direction.

She expressed her frustration that many people who need the facilities are often tarred as ‘down-and-outs’ when, in fact, many are hard-working people who are either struggling on low wages or find themselves laid off.

She pointed to the foodbank and said, ‘That’s it there, son,’ and then also pointed a few hundred yards up the street to a block of high-rise flats, highlighting that many of the families who live there have no choice but to use the foodbank.

 

Led by Catholics

The volunteers at the foodbank have credited the Xaverian Fathers from the nearby Conforti centre as the brains behind the project.

Manager Angela said they are ‘the board of directors, essentially,’ and added that they are a huge presence in the unit, and give help to the team whenever they ask.

Eric Brady added that the local churches and schools have ‘been absolutely great’ at helping out.

‘Around 99 per cent’ of all the volunteers are Catholic, Angela said, explaining that although they are officially a Catholic organisation, they do not market themselves as one as they want the public to know that anyone can apply to volunteer, and that their beneficiaries are of all faiths and none.

Almost all of their donors, Angela explained, come to them via word of mouth.

Laughing, she said: “Margaret went to her dentist last week—Margaret will highlight the foodbank anywhere she goes—and when she told the people there that she works here, she came in this morning with three carloads of stuff from the staff there.”

 

How it works

Coatbridge Community Foodbank have another Margaret in their ranks.

Margaret Gollogly, Angela’s ‘right hand woman’ according to the volunteers, deals mostly with the administrative side of the organisation.

She had previously worked in the civil service and later the care industry before retiring. She explained how the foodbank works, and the process which an individual goes through in order to receive help.

“We get referrals from all sorts of agencies, some of them come themselves, and we also get referrals from Citizen’s Advice and the Scottish Welfare Fund,” she said.

As Margaret continued, there was a knock at the door. A fellow volunteer explained to her that a young family had come along to drop in a cash donation which will go towards buying more food and healthcare products.

Margaret said: “At present we can normally give [a person] three assists and then we wouldn’t be able to help them for a further three months, so I check if the person’s been before and how we can help them and such.”

Margaret said that she and her fellow volunteers enjoy what they do for the community, despite the fact that it is indeed a necessity.

“It’s quite rewarding, not personally, but just thinking that this foodbank is making a contribution, everybody is making a contribution, and it’s satisfying to see that kind of thing,” she said.

“There are times where it can be quite heart-wrenching to see some of the situations people are in, not through their own doing, but because of the circumstances they’re in.

“We get people who come in and say, ‘I’m ashamed to be here, I don’t want to be here,’ and we’ve got to try and say, ‘don’t be ashamed.’”

  • Coatbridge Community Foodbank opens every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am-2.30pm.
  • They have collection trollies in the nearby Tesco and ASDA stores, and can also accept donations directly.
  • Find them at 25 Coatbank Street, Coatbridge ML5 3SP, and online at coatbridgefoodbank.com

 

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