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Food: Help Cambridge City Foodbank fight poverty

According to latest figures from Trussell Trust, the NGO working to end food poverty, three emergency food parcels are given out every minute in the UK. Velvet talks to Margaret Saner, CEO of Cambridge City Foodbank, to find out about the service - and how we can support it

Cambridge City Foodbank (54475108)
Cambridge City Foodbank (54475108)

Remind us how the Cambridge City Foodbank began? And tell us how it’s grown?

Cambridge City Foodbank was established 11 years ago by local churches. It is part of the Trussell Trust’s network of foodbanks across the UK, which provide emergency food to people in crisis.

Over the years, Cambridge City Foodbank has continued to grow and we now run seven distribution centres in locations across Cambridge city and further afield. Our newest centre is in Northstowe, which we opened in June 2021 in order to better serve this area of the county.

In 2018, we launched our first Fairbite shop, which operates in a different way to the traditional foodbank model. Those who are referred to the service pay a small membership fee, in return for

which they can come into the shop and select up to 10 essential items, like pasta, rice and other dry goods, plus fruit, vegetables and “extras” like sanitary products and baby food.

Through the Fairbite model, people can access support for as long as they need to, although the referral requirement and the limitation on items is designed to ensure that they do not build long-term dependency on the service. This year, we will be looking to expand the Fairbite offering, setting up more ‘shops’ across the city.

While we’re pleased to be able to support so many people in Cambridgeshire, growth is not our goal. Our mission is to address food poverty at its root causes, so no one needs to use a Foodbank at all. For now, however, we will continue to provide emergency food support to those who need us.

Cambridge is thought of - not just nationally, but internationally - as a place of privilege. The reality is that we have a sharply divided populace here, isn’t it?

Yes, that is correct. While there is a lot of wealth in Cambridge, we are also home to incredible poverty and deprivation, which has only been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The foodbank

saw huge spikes in people needing to use our services at the beginning of lockdown in 2020, but also more recently, as furlough has lifted, fuel costs have spiked and the Universal Credit uplift has been removed, we’ve been experiencing some of our hardest times ever. December 2021 was our busiest month on record, with more than 1,200 people receiving food.

While Cambridge is very unequal in terms of wealth, it does have many people who want to help, both with their time and donations. Thanks to the generosity of the public, and our tremendous team of volunteers, we are able to help address some of the poverty in our city and I hope eventually we will be able to eradicate poverty in Cambridge entirely.

How many people is Cambridge City Foodbank supporting currently and what kind of hardship/s are they facing?

In 2021, we provided food parcels to around 9,700 individuals and families. There are many, many reasons why someone might need to use a foodbank. For some, due to unforeseen circumstances – such as self-isolation, illness or an unexpected bill - they have found themselves short of money one week and unable to buy food. For others, it could be a more deep-rooted issue that has landed them in a more severe cycle of poverty. Addiction, mental illness and domestic abuse, for example, are all key contributors to poverty.

To help address some of these deeper-rooted issues, in 2021 we hired a Signposting Coordinator who is supporting our team of volunteers to signpost foodbank visitors to other organisations which can help with their needs beyond food.

Something that has been particularly apparent throughout the pandemic is the fact that truly anyone can find themselves in a position where they need emergency food support. In particular, during the early months, we had people visit us who never thought they would need to use a foodbank, but due to furlough, loss of income and running out of savings, they found themselves in trouble.

Cambridge City Foodbank CEO Margaret Saner (54475105)
Cambridge City Foodbank CEO Margaret Saner (54475105)

What would you say to encourage readers to support the Foodbank - and how can they best give that support?

No matter how big or small, every donation we receive – whether it’s a food item or monetary donation – goes a long way in supporting someone in crisis.

For those looking to donate food, please head to our website to check our most-needed items list. You can then pick up items during your weekly shop and leave them in the supermarket’s food donation bin, or drop them off at our warehouse during opening hours.

If you would like to donate financially, you can find out how to do so via our website here: cambridgecity.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/donate-funds/

We’re also always looking for volunteer applicants as our services continue to grow. Please email volunteer@ccfb.org.uk for our latest opportunities.

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