Foodbanks and the Loyalty of Volunteering | Anna Stibbe, TCSND

Foodbanks and the Loyalty of Volunteering | Anna Stibbe, TCSND <i>(Image: Anna Stibbe)</i>
Foodbanks and the Loyalty of Volunteering | Anna Stibbe, TCSND (Image: Anna Stibbe)

The 2020s have seen the UK thrown into turbulent commotion: the pandemic and economic crisis arguably the most impactful news, dominating not only television, but the lives of millions. The ever-changing political and national affairs increasingly stress the need for communities to come together.

Especially in hugely populated cities like London, people overlook the dire need and benefit for volunteering, arguing it is no longer sufficiently impactful and therefore its importance is diminishing. However, while there may always exist wider issues in society, volunteering on a local level will ameliorate the quality of people’s lives profoundly. Volunteering is one of a minority of industries which stays constant, a tight-knit team of individuals tirelessly and devotedly improving their local community.

However, speaking to Sarah Vitty, project manager of Lewisham Foodbank, the necessity for a hands-on community, even in the vast and hectic London, is vital. Lewisham Foodbank has 5 paid staff, including Vitty, an ex-teacher, and over 200 volunteers. The foodbank requires 450 volunteering hours per week in order to run effectively and help as many individuals and families as possible. Although food donations have decreased, financial donations continue to increase. These are particularly helpful to the foodbank, particularly regular monthly donations, which aid the better management and planning of the stock.

Lewisham Foodbank displays how extensively accessible volunteering is to everyone. The staff highlight the remarkable age range- from people under 16 years old volunteering for their Duke of Edinburgh award to retired people loyal to the cause from its opening in November 2012. Volunteers in full-time education participate after school and in holidays. Charity workers make sure to maximise accessibility for volunteers with additional needs and disabilities, so they can equally contribute using their skills. The foodbank also commends employers who allow employees to work flexibly to volunteer. This sympathy towards volunteering began during the pandemic and has continued ever since, Vitty believing it was because ‘employers realised the value of volunteering’.

The value and power of volunteering is boundless. Vitty defines this as ‘being able to use the wealth of skills in our community to push forward the key priorities and address some of the major issues in our area’. It harnesses loyalty and devotion in the community, with hundreds of generous people coming together- volunteering, raising money and awareness and organising events to get involved and invested in the cause. Vitty describes the atmosphere and culture that’s created in this teamwork, observing that ‘people feel at home here, they enjoy working here and the also see the need increasing in our local community, so they want to do something’.

A priority in the improvement of charitable organisations such as Lewisham Foodbank is diversity. The importance of a diverse team, including donators and donations is not recognised enough. The foodbank greatly appreciates wide ranges of food donations, of which there is a want for more cultural and global foods. Lewisham foodbank often orders in cultural foods such as yam, plantains and halal foods to meet the needs of people of a range of cultures. Vitty and other employees emphasise the need for a more ethnically diverse team of volunteers.

Volunteering absolutely holds much value for a person’s wellbeing, always welcoming and grateful for people who want to get involved. While it can seem daunting, especially in a city where the importance of community is not always recognised, volunteers at Lewisham foodbank encourage everyone to get involved in a cause important to them. Grand gestures such as celebrities using their immense social media platforms to urge politicians to make a change are important, however engaged communities addressing these issues at grassroot level are equally as valuable as governmental acknowledgement and change of policies.