This month we’re speaking to two long-standing volunteers at Cambridge City Foodbank’s distribution centre at the C3 church in Cambridge. We asked them about their best and funniest moments, as well as the key challenges they’ve faced this year, and they have also shared their best advice for new volunteers and anyone accessing the Foodbank for the first time.
What is the highlight of your time volunteering at C3?
Mary: “Every week something happens that warms the cockles of my heart. Particularly since lockdown, we’ve had a lot of first-time visitors who have never had to use a foodbank before and they are so grateful for the support – seeing their relief and happiness at what they receive from us is very rewarding.”
Gilly: “For me, aside from being able to support people in our community, the best thing for me is working as part of a team and building friendships with other volunteers – including Mary who I actually knew from 40 years ago and we’ve been able to reconnect because of the Foodbank!”
And the biggest challenge?
Mary: “I find it difficult when someone wants to talk and we are too busy to give them our full attention, or, currently, because it’s hard to communicate due to masks and physical distance. And when we have young mums and dads coming in, often single parents, I wish there was more I could do to help them.”
Gilly: “Likewise, I find it particularly challenging when we see young families coming in to use the Foodbank. Recently I had a single mum come in and she was just so frustrated and upset at the lack of opportunity to work. She was on universal credit but it just wasn’t enough to support her and her family. It’s fantastic being able to provide food but, like Mary, I wish there was more we could do!”
What’s made you laugh while volunteering?
Mary: “One day I glanced up and there waiting was a mega-medallion man draped in gold bling and sporting a three-cornered hat and long jacket. I sighed inwardly thinking he might be off his rocker and a bit difficult. It turned out to be the Mayor coming in for a photo opportunity at C3!”
Where would you like to see the C3 hub in 12 months’ time?
Mary: I would like to see us back to normal and with fewer people needing to use the Foodbank. It’s great for us as volunteers to be busy but it’s not a good sign of the times for people in Cambridge. I would like to see the centre back to how it was, with our own space to run the Foodbank.
Gilly: “I’d like to see the hub back to how it was pre-Coronavirus and full of warmth again. I would like to have fewer people in need of help, which would give us more time to sit down with clients, offering them a cup of tea and a chance to talk about their lives; helping people to feel that they are a part of something.”
What advice would you give to someone using the Foodbank for the first time?
Mary: “Cambridge City Foodbank is a completely non-judgemental, friendly and safe space. Due to the pandemic more people are using the Foodbank for the first time and this has caused them great upset, however just remember that you’re not on your own and there is nothing to be ashamed of. We are here to help!”
Gilly: “Precisely, people should feel entitled to their food parcel. A lot of people are very apologetic, but there really is no need to be. Pre-COVID we would have more opportunity to speak to people, build friendships, and I hope we can get back to that soon.”
What advice would you give to someone volunteering for the first time?
Mary: “Wear comfy shoes and dress up warm! Remember to smile – even behind your mask!
Gilly: “You won’t always be told what to do, so take the initiative and see what needs doing to be helpful.”