For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we spoke to Martha French and Sona Maiden about their experiences of volunteering at our Alpha Terrace centre in Trumpington. Martha started volunteering with the Foodbank during the second lockdown in November of last year, while Sona also joined the team in November, having previously volunteered at our distribution centre in Cambourne for around one year
While lockdown and the winter months have undoubtedly provided greater challenges for Foodbank volunteers and clients, Martha and Sona share how a sense of community at the centre has prevailed amid the difficult circumstances.
What inspired you to get involved with Cambridge City Foodbank?
Martha: “I first heard of Cambridge City Foodbank through attending and working for Kingsgate Church. Since I live in Trumpington and have always been involved in different local projects, I was keen to play my part in helping people and families in my community who are in need of support.”
Sona: “Particularly during the pandemic, I have wanted to give back to the community in some way – I have been very blessed but I am aware that some people are not so fortunate and are struggling. As a committed Christian this is something I wanted and needed to do, and when Martha contacted me I was more than happy to help.”
What has been the highlight of the last few months?
Martha: “Even though it was incredibly busy, Christmas was a really special time; we were able to give away small treats, such as stationery kits, Christmas baubles and chocolates to Foodbank users. Putting a smile on the face of the children coming into the centre was a real highlight for me!”
Sona: “What drives me is that feeling that I am helping in some way. There are so many people working selflessly to help others with the pandemic and, since I cannot help in a medical capacity, I have chosen to volunteer at the Foodbank. When the centre is not busy, it is also lovely to chat to and get to know the other volunteers. It is overwhelming to witness the generosity of people who are supporting our services too.”
And the biggest challenge?
Martha: “It is sometimes frustrating when the foodbank is incredibly busy and I don’t have as much time as I would like to help each individual. Ideally, I would like to speak to clients more so I can help with the process of signposting and getting the right support to those who need it most. Hopefully, as the pandemic restrictions ease there will be more capacity to engage in these meaningful conversations with users. For now, we must continue helping as many people as we can in a safe and secure way.”
Sona: “I do find it challenging seeing first-hand how many people, from all walks of life, are struggling in the current climate. It is also upsetting when you see someone who is embarrassed about visiting the centre as this is not something they want to do, so we do our best to make sure we are cheerful and make them feel comfortable and welcome, and that there is no judgement from any of us, ever.”
What has made you laugh while volunteering?
Martha: “We often share a joke with clients about how they are going to carry their food home, as many of them cycle to the centre. On one occasion, a client brought a suitcase in to collect their food! While it is obviously sad to see returning faces, it has been fulfilling to build relationships within the community. There is a real sense of relief from some of our single mums, particularly in times of lockdown, to see a friendly face and experience human contact.”
Where would you like to see Cambridge City Foodbank in 12 months’ time?
Sona: “Ideally, I would like to see the Foodbank grow in size so we can help as many people as possible.”
Martha: “I look forward to a time when I can share a cup of coffee with clients and find out more about the stories and experiences of those coming to the foodbank. Ideally, we wouldn’t be needed as volunteers but realistically I would like to learn from other support centres about how to improve our services and overall offering to people in need in Cambridge.”