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It has been a fraught year for Skipton food bank manager Phil Sage.
Last October, the charity was given notice to quit its storage premises in Craven Court and found itself back at St Andrew’s Church, where it all started in 2011.
The charity, which comes under the umbrella of Skipton Baptist Church, was in full swing preparing for Christmas, but Phil and the volunteers made sure help for families and those in need of food for whatever reason did not stop.
She was not to see the forthcoming coronavirus pandemic which threw another curveball their way.
But the move turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise.
“We were able to use the whole of the ground floor at St Andrews, plus the use of the kitchen. We couldn’t have managed without it,” said Phil.
“We were so busy and there were so many complications. To begin with it was a lack of donations caused by the three items limit on food shops. It was the perfect storm. There were no tins or anything to be had and we were very short, but I have to say my proudest moment was being able to stay open. We didn’t close down.”
Phil was given special dispensation to get more than the magic figure of three items from Asda, in Keighley. Other supermarkets gave generously and people started donating more money because they couldn’t get additional food.
“The extra money meant I could buy in bulk, which has helped. We are now very well stocked and if anything like this happens again, we are ready,” she said.
Phil said another problem was the need to find more volunteers to help to support the growing volume of people needing help.
“Many of the volunteers were needing to isolate because of their age, so I appealed for more help and 150 volunteers came forward. It was fantastic.”
One such new volunteer is Sophie Aiken, who works in front of house for the Victoria Palace Theatre, in London, where she is from. Her parents moved to Horton-in-Ribblesdale two years ago and Sophie has been living with them through the pandemic.
“I answered the advert and help out at the food bank each Monday morning.
“Phil is absolutely incredible. She is always on the go and has everything absolutely organised. I wish we didn’t have a need for food banks, but I am so glad we have them, because they help people who are in the most need. No one has to feel any shame from having to ask for help from them from time to time. I really have enjoyed helping out.”
Phil added that it is a waiting game now as to what needs will have to be met in the near future.
She said volunteers had been working more than double the time they normally did and that referrals for people needing food parcels had just about doubled.
Some of the requests for help have dropped off now as people have gone back to work, but she feared there would be more hardship around the corner as the halt on evictions was due to end and more and more people were losing their jobs as furloughs end.
“We can’t anticipate everything, but if there is to be a second wave or another lockdown, we know what to expect and we are prepared,” said Phil.
Skipton Baptist Church lead minister the Reverend Lisa Holmes added: “When Covid-19 transformed our experience of life and we suddenly all went into lockdown, the food bank became a pivotal resource as the amount of vulnerable people needing food help exploded.
“Initially, we were providing food for over twice as many individuals and families as we normally had done (normally around 80 people/30 families each week) and were under extreme pressure. Overnight all our ‘regular volunteers’ became unavailable through age or shielding (although some of them took on home-based admin roles, learning new tech skills with great efficiency). Suddenly, the food bank needed a complete overhaul in terms of systems and volunteers.
“For the first couple of months, Phil was working almost all the time answering the phones to distressed and confused individuals, building new teams from the over 150 amazing individuals who were willing to volunteer, populating and repopulating rotas, creating new ways of working and developing new systems of food referral and deliveries. Alongside that, due to the outstanding generosity of the community the food bank teams have had to work out how to quarantine food, sort it effectively, make sure stock is in date and available, pack fresh food parcels and work out how to use Sellotape with gloves on and wear masks without their glasses steaming up.
“At the helm of all this has been Phil – the officially ‘part-time’ food bank manager employed by Skipton Baptist Church.
“Phil has gone above and beyond in terms of her emotional support of individuals in need, rewriting procedures, chatting to team leaders receiving their lists and keys from her door twice a day for weeks on end, managing stock levels, caring about people receiving fresh food and not just packets and trying to think strategically about the future.
“Phil’s husband, Dave, was key in this manic few months in helping get online systems in place so people could help remotely. Other volunteers have worked incredibly hard as well to make sure people get the food they need.”
If you know someone who makes a difference in their community, email us at SaltOfTheEarth@northyorks.gov.uk