Wednesday 28 January 2015
Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived areas of the UK with the highest level of child poverty in the country. This means that the average salary in our borough of London is £11,400 and 52 per cent of children are living below the poverty line, according to the Tower Hamlets Foodbank website (www.towerhamletsfoodbank.org.uk). However foodbanks are working with volunteers and organisations to change these figures and help people in their community who are in crisis by tackling the underlying causes of hidden hunger.
This academic year Queen Mary launched a volunteering group to help Bow Foodbank by collecting food and household items and donating them to the foodbank. Students Hazel and Shobana, who created the volunteering group, talked to us about the foodbank and why it is so important for students to donate and volunteer.
How did you hear about Bow Foodbank? And what inspired you to volunteer with them?
We first heard about the foodbank group through the Students’ Union who wanted to set up a volunteering group that helped collect items which can then be given to those in need. Our first visit to the foodbank was last July when we met lots of the local volunteers who were really excited to have students from Queen Mary get involved. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming. It’s also a great opportunity to meet interesting people from the local community and understand that so many different types of people use the foodbank, from teenagers to mothers to old age pensioners.
Why do you think foodbanks are becoming increasingly necessary in today’s society?
A lot of people we have met, who rely on the foodbank to get by, mentioned that they can’t afford to pay their bills in the winter along with purchasing food. There are also a lot of people who have come from other countries who are struggling and people who don’t understand the benefits system and exactly what they are entitled to. In order to use the foodbank services there is a registration form which questions people on whether they are receiving the correct benefits from the government and most people have no idea. Many of the people using the foodbank are those with addictions or mental health problems. It’s a great opportunity to help people who are struggling.
What benefits have you seen the foodbank have on the local community?
The people we have met have been really appreciative and they enjoy having a chat with all of the volunteers. Those who struggle to get by can receive up to ten items every fortnight which makes a huge difference to them. In fact over Christmas many of our clients gave the volunteers Christmas cards to show their appreciation which was very touching.
What type of food or household items are most needed by the foodbank?
It’s impossible to say that one item is needed over another as a variety of packaged food and household items are in demand. The foodbank store all of the food and household items so if they’re running low on an item they do have a budget to replenish their stock. We encourage people to donate whatever they can from within the list provided on the Bow Foodbank website here (http://www.bowfoodbank.org/#!events/c17et)
We have noticed that a lot of mothers with young children use the foodbank services and sometimes they can’t afford to buy nappies, which are surprisingly expensive. Most people don’t think to donate items like nappies so perhaps that is an item which can be in high demand at the foodbank.
How have students responded to your foodbank initiative? And how do students get involved?
We launched the volunteering group at the beginning of this academic year. During Fresher’s Week around 150 people signed up which was great. We also receive a lot of emails from students who want to know more about what we do and how to get involved. There are food donation boxes in place in the Students’ Union Hub, Village Shop and Infusion on the Mile End campus so if students want to donate items we encourage them to drop them off at these locations.
We recruit student volunteers to attend monthly food collections off campus and on-campus. Students are also encouraged to help each month at the foodbank, sorting through and distributing donations.
Have you had any past achievements that you’re particularly proud of?
In the past we have run lots of supermarket collections where we ask people entering a supermarket to purchase an item which would be needed by the foodbank and donate the item when they leave. In November of last year eight of us set a record for Bow Foodbank by collecting 4,000 food items which equates to 140 crates of food. We’re usually very successful in our supermarket collections and we’ve met a lot of generous people.
Why should students get involved with the foodbank?
Firstly, it’s a great way to help your local community and the environment as you’re cutting down on food waste and supplying people in need with food and household items. Secondly, it is a very rewarding way to volunteer as you are meeting the people you help every week. Going back home for Christmas for five weeks had actually made us realise that we missed the volunteering. It’s also great way to get away from the stress of university and meet people. Every week there are different volunteers, both from Queen Mary and other organisations. And of course it looks great on your CV!
Do you have any upcoming events?
We have just launched a competition which is taking place during Green Mary Week, between Monday 9 and Friday 13 February. The challenge is for societies and sports teams to collect as many items to donate to the foodbank as they can. The prize will be a sweet and chocolate hamper. We will have a stall on the Friday of Green Mary week, outside The Curve, for societies to drop off their items. We’re really excited about this competition and we hope lots of people will take part. To register your interest on behalf of your society please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re also encouraging students to donate any food items they have left at the end of the academic year before they return home.
Green Mary Week will take place from Monday 9 to Friday 13 February where there will be lots of events and activities taking place across campus. Keep checking the QMUL Sustainability Facebook and Twitter for more details.
You can find out more about Queen Mary Students’ Union Volunteering here: qmsu.org/volunteering