IN what is often seen as a well-off area, the Ringwood Foodbank helped 1,000 people in the past year. Since it opened in July 2013, with a distribution centre at the Wesley Centre in Christchurch Road, Ringwood, and a warehouse at Hangersley, the continued need has seen it expand, opening a Verwood distribution centre at the United Reformed Church in Manor Road last June.
There are also plans to launch one in Fordingbridge.
Nationally, the latest figures from the Trussell Trust, which runs the Ringwood operation as well as foodbanks around the country, showed that more than one million people in the UK received at least three days’ emergency food in the past 12 months – the highest figure ever – although on average 49 percent of users only needed one foodbank voucher in a year.
But whatever the political arguments behind that, those on the ground are simply doing their best to help people in desperate need. The Ringwood Foodbank’s warehouse, tucked away near a farm, is a busy place, tight on space, but everything is organised neatly in order of expiry date, to ensure that items with a shorter shelf life get used soonest.
Christine Owen, warehouse manager, said:
“It goes in phases. Sometimes it can be quiet and then it can be chaos. The distribution centres send up orders to us and if they’re busy it will be a big order, or it could be a top-up. It could be a single person turning up or a lot of families and that’s a lot of food going out in one go.”
Everyone involved is a volunteer and there are around 100 people giving their time; they help in the warehouse, as delivery drivers and in the distribution centres.
Christine added: “People say this is a wealthy area, but that’s not to say that people do not need food. There’s no reason why there should be any less need than other areas. It can be everything from people with long term, ongoing, financial problems, to people that can manage most of the time and have an unexpected bill. We’re looking to open another centre in Fordingbridge.”
“I think it’s as much that if someone doesn’t have enough money for food then they might not have money for transport either, so it’s about being close to where people need us. There’s a need and we can do something about it. People are very generous with their food donations. Last year we had something like 14 tonnes of food in. We have a regular collection at Waitrose in Ringwood now and we get around 200kg a month from there and a similar amount from Tesco at Ferndown.”
There are also collections at other shops, schools and churches and Waitrose staff even gave their time to help do a stock-take at the warehouse. “Stocks are always good, but there are particular items that we run out of regularly, for example sponge puddings, fruit juice, UHT milk and mash potato,” said Christine.
The Foodbank not only helps meet people’s food needs – all are referred by organisations such as Citizens’ Advice, doctors or social services and are given vouchers – it also points people in the direction of other places that they can find help and advice.
Claire Skelley, from Ringwood, has been with the foodbank since the start and is a trustee. She said: “It’s all walks of life; anybody can find themselves in crisis, from a mum who finds herself on a Friday with no money for the weekend, to the homeless, to people with delayed debts.
Gordon Hughes, from Verwood, volunteers for a few hours a week at the warehouse. He said: “I’ve got plenty of time on my hands and I also do forestry work for Moors Valley. “I feel like I’ve done a little bit and I enjoy it.”