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Stories from the warehouse

23rd December 2020

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we’ve been speaking with the team who runs warehouse operations for Cambridge City Foodbank. Hear from Chris Avery, who has supported both the office and Fairbite teams and now volunteers in the warehouse, and Roy Cross, who has volunteered in the warehouse since January 2019, about their highs and lows and how volunteering has helped them through this tough year.

What is a usual morning like in the warehouse?

Chris: “I work alongside Hilary and Zena and, on a normal Tuesday, we spend the first part of the session weighing in and unpacking donations, before sorting them into crates organised by type of food and use by date. We have to be really careful checking dates and this can take quite a long time – especially when the date labels seem to be hidden! The second half of the session is spent packing crates to be sent to the various distribution centres to be given to our clients. At present we’re working to special “Christmas lists” – so there are lots of mince pies flying about!”

What have been the biggest highlights and challenges of your time volunteering for Foodbank?

Chris: “Both the biggest highlights and the biggest challenges always come about during the Christmas period! The generosity of people who give either food or money is both magnificent and overwhelming. In the office, I remember one morning counting over £700 in cash from small donations and receipts from the shop, and trying to make it all balance – every time I counted it, I ended up with a slightly different total! And then there was the first year of Christmas hampers – there were hundreds of them and we ran out of space to put them all. That was a very long day of volunteering but so worth it for the outcome.”

Roy: “For me, the highlight of volunteering is every week – it is good fun with lots of chat, jokes and occasionally singing by the warehouse volunteer manager. Often there is random chatter about why sausages in tins of beans are packed as meat, whereas sausages in pasta are packed as pasta – but it’s all light-hearted and it never feels like work! In terms of challenges, sometimes I find it difficult deciding what exactly to put into each food parcel. When we buy our own food we know what we like, but how do you know what other families want and need? The packing list may say ‘Cereal Large’ and ‘Meat x4’ but do the parents and children like porridge, cornflakes or Weetabix? And do they prefer tinned hotdogs, corned beef or Fray Bentos pies? Unfortunately they get what is available and hopefully there are not too many disappointments. It would be far better if we had a society where all people had sufficient funds to be able to buy their own food and make their own choices.”

What drives you to volunteer for Cambridge City Foodbank?

Chris: “I’ve had a wonderful time working for the Foodbank, and I’d like to finish up by saying that it works both ways. During normal times, I’m a theatre nut and I love directing plays for local drama groups. Since March this year, there has been none of that and since I don’t have family nearby, my social life, which normally revolves around the world of theatre, has been very limited. The first lockdown wasn’t too bad as I also love my garden, but the winter has been terribly difficult for me.

“Consequently, I’ve been doing lots of extra warehouse sessions and these have given me a reason to get up in the mornings. Working together with other people to achieve something we value and are proud of is the main thing I enjoy about directing plays and over the past few weeks I’ve realised that it’s true of the Foodbank as well. So, thank you to all my colleagues, who’ve understood my occasional sadness and, through our common work and companionship, have helped me through some hard times.”

Roy: “Although we don’t see people at the distribution centres, it’s good to feel that you are helping a team to get donations quickly sorted and repacked, so they can be distributed to the individuals or families who need them. Every Monday I come home feeling I have done something useful, every crate packed is a help so it’s very rewarding.”

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