Newsletter January 2022

14th January 2022

Thank you

It has been quite a while since we last put out a newsletter, being so busy as a result of increased demand due to Covid-19. This newsletter gives an update from before the start of the pandemic.

First of all, we would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the donations we have received to help those in need locally, both in food and cash. We could not do what we do without your support and generosity. Thank you.

Covid-19 resulted in changing from walk-in service to delivery operation

Foodbank manager Edel DiamondHaving been working closely on the ground now for the past six years, we have recently seen first hand how Covid has had an impact on our communities, especially the most vulnerable. Yet, we have had to change dramatically how the foodbank operates, moving from seeing our people come in for food parcels in person in the past, to setting up our food delivery operation to take food out to people now instead. At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown we were able to move swiftly, getting packages out to those who were struggling financially and couldn’t afford food. This option is of course available for any of our people wishing to come along in person and pick up their food parcel, as well as referral agencies who wish to do the same on the person/family’s behalf.

Socially distanced food handoverWe had many practical changes to make to get a delivery operation in place within 48 hours. It has only been with the help and support of our buildings manager who facilitated us using a stairwell and side door that we could safely pass deliveries out to our volunteer drivers with the necessary protection being in place.

Our warehouse volunteers busily sort food and pre-pack food parcels for our volunteer delivery drivers to take. This is a process whereby delivery dockets are given to delivery drivers, with a unique reference number being used for each package. The unique reference number is on each bag, which helps drivers avoid mixing up one person’s package with another.

The volunteers coped really well with the changes, as this was quite a big adjustment at the beginning.

Increased demand

All of a sudden we had people in hospitality not needed any longer and having no chance of benefiting from the furlough system, those on zero hour contracts without an income, those who lost loved ones were reduced to one income, and those waiting on benefit appeals were greatly affected as face to face appointments were cancelled across the board.

As a result, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic we were processing up to 100 deliveries per week, a 400% increase on the same time the previous year. Over the last twelve months we have given out over 51 tonnes of food, which equates to over 120,000 meals. That is on average about 1,000 kg of food, or over 2,300, meals each week.

Giving help – Amazing generosity from our local community

2021 Belfast Marathon teamSo amazingly at this time our communities rallied in support. The impact of the Covid pandemic on our communities encouraged a great community response. Many local community organisations and sports clubs stepped up either with raising their own funds or using funds provided by local government (Department for Communities response). This was much needed support for those who were shielding due to their vulnerability.

The wonderful generosity of the public both in food and finance also greatly benefited those in food poverty, as the foodbank was supported by corporate businesses, GAA clubs, IFA clubs, schools, churches, local community organisations, as well as various people doing fundraising events (such as the 2021 Belfast Marathon men’s and women’s foodbank teams, see photo). In fact this is still the case and we really couldn’t function without such support. It was absolutely overwhelming and still to this day. My heart warms at the amount of giving that we see. I like to see it as the ‘circle of giving’ or the journey that the donated food takes with food donated, then sorted, then packed up for our families and sent out to them.

Local businessman Suneil Sharma donated M&S vouchers for Christmas hampersAs well as receiving food from many sources, we continue to feel supported by two supermarkets, Sainsbury’s Kennedy Centre and Asda Westwood, who work closely in partnership with us in providing permanent collection points for members of the public to donate food. These donations are vital to the running of the foodbank. Notices on the collection points allow us to let our public know what food items we are most in need of, in order to provide nutritionally balanced food parcels.

Local businesses have also provided tremendous support, providing bulk food and/or cash donations. We would list them here, except many of them prefer not to have their names mentioned. For example, this Christmas one local businessman has donated £9,000 of M&S vouchers (£60 each) for our Christmas hampers (while the remainder of hampers are receiving the same from donations from others).

Getting help – Partnerships with referral organisations

Our partnerships continue to grow with our referral partners and we feel reassured to know that they are assessing individuals and families in terms of need. However, with so many referral organisations working from home and not seeing clients in person, not as many people as before were being identified as being in need. As a result, we made another massive shift in how we do things. We now take direct referrals from those in need. Having been trained in counselling and giving benefit advice, since the start of the pandemic we have been asking those in need to contact us directly. Instead of primarily relying on other organisations to asses those in need, we are doing so ourselves now too, often with lengthy phone conversations. While this isn’t ideal, we do seem to be reaching more people in need. For now we feel that self-referrals, as well as partner organisation referrals, combined with our delivery service are all working really well. As we seek to best serve those in need, our operation is fluid and open to change. Still, when the pandemic is over we envisage seeing our people visiting us again in person in some way.

Finding hope

Our involvement with those who have needed to use the foodbank can be complex as there are often many things going on for the person, usually not just one particular issue. When needed, we offer to signpost our people on to other organisations for support. The trust and friendships we have built on within the community has meant that many individuals and families needing more wrap around support have been able to avail of it, in partnership with agencies such as Macmillan Cancer, Extern, or support for PIP appeals.

One person said, ”You have literally saved my life”. Another said, “The food was very welcome indeed. But what really saved me from hitting rock bottom was the little cash help you gave for my gas and electric.”  It seemed like so little at the time but that same individual greeted me one day after months of waiting on their appeal and he was beaming from ear to ear, so relieved, so happy and so thankful for the help he received. This same individual had been talking of suicide just a few months beforehand.

One of our referral partners has noted, “This service has proved vital to both our clients and to our agency, especially during covid when our home visits ceased. We are seeing this changing back again. However, many of our clients struggle to get out with the various issues that they have. It’s just so reassuring that we can contact Edel and the team and just know our clients are being looked after.”

Looking forward

We have seen a sharp rise in energy costs and this will be sustained throughout the next lot of months according to consumer experts. Unfortunately we do not have fuel voucher schemes in Northern Ireland. However, we have occasionally been helping the most struggling families with small amounts of cash to top up, often in consultation with other referral agencies.

Universal credit is still pushing many into debt as the 5/6 week wait pushes many to take advanced payments that are then taken out of their benefit at such high rates that they cannot cope. The Trussell Trust foodbank network alongside others are trying to get more information to those in need about the discretionary support that benefit claimants can receive. Yet, for many people this is like a steep mountain to climb, since so often this entitlement can be difficult to navigate without proper independent advice.
Thank you to our volunteers

We have been truly blessed with the volunteers that we have. Over the last year and a half there have been many changes. At lockdown we lost a few really dedicated volunteers. Yet, we also gained a fabulous crew of many new volunteers. In line with Covid guidelines, instead of having several volunteers working together for a few sessions each week, we changed to having many more two-hour sessions nearly every day during the week, each with fewer people. It is of paramount importance that are our volunteers are safe and protected, and with standard Covid-19 practices in place we normally only have one person working in a warehouse room at a time now (with exceptions if two volunteers are in a bubble etc.).

Christmas period issues

Since our busy Christmas season we have noticed that our people are faced with increasing difficulty in terms of them making a choice between heating or eating.  The mammoth increases in energy bills, some as much as 50% will unfortunately be sustained in the weeks and months ahead.  Our people are also facing an increase in the cost of food which has been steadily rising in the last year or two.  We endeavour to help as much as we can and we hope that local Government can step in to alleviate some of that shortfall which at times is literally leaving some of our people in the dark. Some have told us while they’re appreciative of the food they just don’t have the electric to cook it with.  We have seen this first hand.  Our aim of course in the coming weeks and months and year ahead is to keep reaching out to those who are in need, to keep working alongside our referrals agencies so we can provide those wrap around services that our people so badly need.  We expect our numbers to go up even further this year and with the help of our great team of volunteers we will certainly do all we can to meet this need.


We could not continue without the financial support of others. In October some of our volunteers were able to take fundraise by taking part in the Belfast Marathon. We are so thankful for this and for all those who donate through bank standing orders, Facebook, JustGiving, workplace collections, as well as donations from businesses, schools, sports clubs, churches and individuals. We were also so grateful to bereaved families who asked for foodbank donations in lieu of flowers. We especially think of the late Jimmy Diamond who was a dedicated volunteer here. These donations help purchase in bulk the food items that we don’t receive enough of (to keep providing nutritionally balanced food packages). They also cover the costs of running the foodbank.

Edel Diamond, Foodbank manager, M: 07938706552

Operations Manager Francis McDonald

Francis McDonaldI came on board to team South-West Belfast Foodbank on 15th December 2020 as the Operations Manager. My background had been eleven or so years in the hospitality industry and at the height of the pandemic this industry took a big hit. Hospitality can be a minefield in terms of protection for the employee while out of work. I had to look for employment elsewhere as the furlough scheme wasn’t an option that was offered to many of us.

I had been a foodbank volunteer during the height of the pandemic, when foodbanks were at their busiest. Volunteering had been a privilege and it was something that I really enjoyed. The team were so efficient and supportive and everything ran like clockwork. There was almost a step by step process to everything and a great desire to help those who were in need. I experienced first-hand the responsibilities that our team had in the efficient running of the foodbank. Right from when food is donated, to the sorting process, to the prepacking of food parcels and to the final stage of being passed over to our volunteer delivery drivers and eventually to our families in need. I was later approached by Foodbank Management with this wonderful opportunity of taking on the position of Operations Manager.

Sainsbury's Collection pointsOne of my main responsibilities is coordinating donations that come in. This includes liaising with our supermarket champions in relation to the permanent collections points, reporting back the monthly weights of donations to them, and thanking them on a regular basis for this amazing provision. We have an amazingly generous public out there, who also get donations from individuals, schools, work, church collections, any of which can be quite substantial in size. Every donation has to be weighed into the warehouse. With the help of volunteers this can run like clockwork, although a lot of physical work required. We also receive financial donations which is amazing.

My job is also to make sure we are stocked and ready to go, to check stock levels regularly and monitor that closely in case we get low on certain items. It is fair to say that foodbanks in general do receive more of certain items than others. So, for example, we receive far too much beans, soup and pasta, while we may run out of UHT milk, tinned rice or tinned custard. In order to provide nutritionally balanced food packages, and not overload people with too much beans and pasta, we occasionally share some surplus items with other organisations who are in need, so that they are able to help others also. This creates a culture of working together with each other in order to reach those most in need, beyond the reach of the foodbank directly. We are now at our busiest time of the year. As well as providing food parcels for our families and individuals, we putting out around 180 Christmas hampers this year to those most in need.

Once again it is a pleasure and a privilege to be heading the operations for team foodbank. I am continually amazed by the dedication and input of our volunteers. They are the backbone that hold this altogether and without them we would be unable to operate in the way we do.

So, thanks to the team and to our referral partners for making me feel right at home and most of all thanks to our generous givers, since without donations we just couldn’t help those in need.

Francis McDonald, Operations manager, M: 07305089403

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