North Yorkshire is famed for the kindness of its communities, and that attitude is typified by the way a Hambleton food bank was created and then expanded to cope with increased public demand.
Northallerton-based Hambleton Foodshare grew from within the community after it became apparent around eight years ago that increasing numbers of people needed a short-term solution to the difficulties they faced.
A public meeting resulted, including churches, housing associations and other public bodies – and crucially members of the community.
Foodshare emerged as a self-supporting entity, relying on the generosity of residents and businesses to donate produce and the dedication of volunteers to ensure the organisation operated as intended.
While each year has seen demand increase, the need for help spiked during the pandemic, when numbers of food parcels distributed virtually doubled in a year.
It is testament to the volunteers who offer their time that Foodshare was able to meet that demand, and also to those people who gave donations, which meant there was enough produce to pass on.
By that time, Foodshare was getting more assistance, in the form of grants from the County and District councils, with organisations like Rotary also stepping in and supermarkets providing support, along with other retailers.
Today, the widespread deliveries scheme that was needed during pandemic lockdowns has been scaled back, but a team of around 60 active volunteers continues to ensure demand is met and Foodshare remains a vital component of the community. The team also provides items like toiletries and cleaning products to help those struggling to make ends meet.
As Foodshare has grown, it has employed two part-time staff to help ensure the process runs smoothly, including co-ordinator Alison Grainger.
She praised the work of volunteers and said: “We have fantastic people, what they do is absolutely amazing.
“We are an emergency service, it is the community helping the community. If people are stuck, they can come along and see us. People should not sit at home panicking because they have no food.”
It was that dedication to the community that earned the group a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2019.
At present Foodshare is distributing around 260 parcels each month.
Most users do not need long-term support and it is rare for people to need more than two or three parcels because they are supported to find help elsewhere to improve their circumstances.
Those who do get help frequently write to express their gratitude, with one telling the organisation: “I really hope that in the future, when I am in a better position, I will be able to repay you in some way.”
Volunteers are a vital component of organisations like Hambleton Foodshare, because it is their work that turns good intentions into reality.
But while volunteer support is a necessity, it can also be a pleasure for those involved, which helps to explain the fact that active Foodshare volunteers number several dozen.
They include Simon Old, who got involved after moving to the area in retirement after previous volunteering experience in Leeds.
His work has involved a range of ‘back room’ duties, including collecting donations, marking up stock and making sure rotas work smoothly to keep the parcels flowing.
He said: “I like to think I am doing something which helps other people. Some people say volunteering is a sacrifice but it isn’t; I get a lot of pleasure from doing it, the camaraderie is brilliant.”
Part of that was down to the way Foodshare was organised, he said, keeping it friendly, with local trustees to oversee its work.
Dianne Dixon had been shocked to learn about the need for food banks and got involved after retiring.
She is part of the ‘Thursday morning team’ who helps to make up packages at Foodshare’s warehouse, before they are moved to the Living Rooms town centre base for distribution.
“It isn’t demanding work, it is good fun,” she said. “There is a team of us and it is a case of many hands making light work.
“When we give parcels out, people are generally so grateful, people really appreciate it and it is nice to see that side. It is a rewarding job and good to be doing a bit to help, it all adds up.”