Caritas Westminster Intern, Jimena De la Fuente went to Palmers Green in Enfield, to pay a visit to one of the Food Banks that was set up during the Covid-19 pandemic. She was impressed by the welcome shown by the volunteers by all who needed support.
Palmers Green Food Bank at St Monica’s church opened its doors at 2 pm and received a constant flow of wonderful people throughout the afternoon. The friendly atmosphere was entirely welcoming to anyone walking by and visitors walked away with bags full of ingredients such as chicken, cereal, coffee, bread, fruits, and even a variety of delicious seasonings. The food bank was organized by Gerry and Jackie Bell who came forward at the beginning of the pandemic. Food previously channeled by the Felix Project through schools to get to the community was unable to be distributed to families when they went into lockdown. I had the opportunity to speak with Gerry about his experience as a volunteer and the process of setting up the food bank during the pandemic.
When asked about his incentive for taking charge of the food bank project Gerry stated that he and Jackie “didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing when we knew there was a lot of need within our community, and whilst you can’t do everything, we thought we could at least do a little.” This statement was inspired by his mix of both faith-based and community-based ideals.
The food back opens every Monday, “rain or shine” to provide healthy food and relieve financial stress within their community. Several locals also stopped by the food bank simply to chat or drop off some individual food donations. Though the contribution may seem small, the act of ‘gifting forward’ their food rather than letting it go to waste is another of the many positive impacts that a food bank has. Arguably as important as the food is the diligence of the volunteers that participate in this service.
The food bank seemed like a well-oiled machine when I arrived. After asking about the challenges and efforts that go into setting it up every week, Gerry informed me that he and Jackie are solely responsible for picking up food collections from 10 different supermarkets and institutions each week. The organization, storage, and packaging of food are carefully done by the volunteers, and they customize each bag to the needs of the person receiving the food. There is a lot of preparation that goes into gathering and preparing all the supplies needed to run a food bank, Gerry admits “it was tough with just the two of us (Gerry and Jackie) but the reward was knowing and getting to know the people in the community that they could help outweighed any downsides.”
As a foreign student from America, with limited volunteer experience, I was impressed with the level of communication and involvement from the local community. Volunteers must show a caring, embracing, and non-judgmental attitude for everything to run smoothly, it is necessary to have “an infrastructure and a band of people that are willing to keep this going for longer.” As a result, Gerry is always on the lookout for new volunteers with diverse skill sets that can offer help, especially since, after the lockdown, the food bank has become more of a community project. However, the goal is to give people the tools to maintain themselves; Gerry mentioned, “I hope this doesn’t become a crutch for people that need food on a more permanent basis” and that “I would love to get to the position where we don’t need a food bank anymore.”
If you are interested in volunteering at Palmers Green Food Bank, contact Gerry Bell
Or go to the Caritas Volunteer Service website for other voluntary opportunities.
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