Each month, we shine a spotlight on someone who supports the Foodbank, and this month, we spoke to relative newcomer to our volunteering community, Eileen Hughes. Read about Eileen’s life before the Foodbank, her roles and responsibilities, and what she enjoys doing whilst she’s not volunteering.
Can you tell us about your background?
Prior to volunteering with Cambridge City Foodbank, I spent 25 years as a manager at John Lewis. My job there was very customer service based and great fun! I took redundancy around seven years ago which looking back, was a fantastic decision. I then took the opportunity to volunteer at the Arthur Rank Hospice. I was in charge of its retail team and its shops for around three years, and I even oversaw the opening of several new shops. I eventually left Arthur Rank Hospice but I was so keen to continue volunteering somewhere else.
With the current status of the UK and wider world at the moment, it became evident to me that volunteering at Cambridge City Foodbank would be an especially good way to spend my time.
When, why, and how did you first start volunteering at the Foodbank?
I started volunteering with the Foodbank around 15 months ago, so I’m relatively new compared to many of the volunteers. I’ve always been conscious about how difficult it is for lots of people living in Cambridge; people assume Cambridge to be an incredibly wealthy city, but actually, it is the most unequal in the UK. I’d noticed more and more stories about the work that the Foodbank was doing, and I thought that its ethos really aligns with what I want to be doing. I feel angry about why people have to use Foodbanks, but by volunteering, I’m able to do a little bit to make the lives of those that use our service a little bit easier. It’s one of the most satisfying and rewarding – and sometimes upsetting – things that I’ve ever done. It’s an incredible cause, and I feel a sense of great pride from supporting the Foodbank.
What are your roles and responsibilities at the Foodbank?
Every other Tuesday I volunteer at the food hub at Chesterton Methodist Church, and every Thursday, I volunteer at the Church of The Good Shepherd. My roles at both centres are basically the same; I meet and greet visitors, distribute food, and talk visitors through what’s in their food parcels. Importantly, I’m there to listen to them if they want to talk and to signpost to the additional support that is available. Sometimes a friendly face is all they need, sometimes they need signposting to our external support agencies, and sometimes they just need reminding to apply for their household support fund. Human interaction on a one-to-one level is incredibly important and beneficial for our visitors. I also collect the surplus bread from Sainsbury’s on a weekly basis, so Cambridge City Foodbank keeps me nice and busy!
Can you tell us about the bread collection?
Early each Tuesday morning, before they close the roads in the city centre, I drive to the Sidney Street Sainsbury’s and collect a selection of yesterday’s bread and cakes. The people that work there are wonderful! I fill my car with as much of the nicest bread and cakes that I can and transport it to the Arbury Fairbite shop. My colleagues there then process the goods and it becomes part of the Fairbite stock. The bread is still so fresh, and I’m so glad we’re able to use it for those in need. It’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours of my time, and I believe others run similar collections on different days of the week.
Is there a moment that stands out from your time with the Foodbank?
It wasn’t from anything that I had done directly, but there was a visitor that used to attend a food hub with his wife, and we’d always chat. I remember distinctly, one day he came in for a cup of tea after not visiting for around a month. He came up to me with a huge smile on his face and let me know that he’d got a job. He was beaming from ear to ear. I was so pleased that someone who had required the support from our Foodbank was able to move away from food poverty and no longer required our services. I’m so glad that he came back in to let us know of his change in circumstances.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not volunteering with the Foodbank?
Since I retired, I’ve taken up running. I was a self-proclaimed couch potato for most of my adult life, but I tied up my laces and started my running journey by undertaking the NHS’s couch to 5K initiative. I’ve since run the London Marathon, which really is incredible to everyone who knew me before my running days! I absolutely love it and it’s so good for my fitness, as well as my overall wellbeing.
If there is someone out there that’s considering volunteering for the first time, or looking at volunteering again after some time off, what would your message be to them?
Absolutely give it a try. Volunteering with Cambridge City Foodbank doesn’t feel like volunteering; due to all of the other amazing volunteers, it has a really nice, family feel. It doesn’t at all feel like work, because you’re meeting up with likeminded people and you are genuinely making a difference to people lives. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending volunteering with the Foodbank to anyone – 100 percent!