When the pandemic first hit, Jigsaw Foodbank was flooded with offers of help from volunteers and support from supermarkets and local Rotary Clubs. But now, with six new referrals in one single day recently, the Jigsaw team has real concerns about what this winter holds for struggling families in the region.
Requests for help doubled in the first couple of weeks of lockdown back in March. At the same time many of Jigsaw’s elderly volunteers were reluctantly having to step down and self-isolate.
“Pre-Covid we were supporting around 40 families or households each week. Within three weeks that had increased to 75 households,” says former teacher Ruth Longfellow, one of the coordinators of Jigsaw foodbank which operates through Church in the Peak, Matlock.
Ruth put out a call for help via the Wirksworth Rotary Club & Town Council and within 24 hours over 80 new volunteers had come forward. With impressive efficiency Ruth and husband Richard quickly organised new packing and delivery teams to provide crisis parcels of food and supplies to homes in their patch – the A6 corridor between Wirksworth and Bakewell and all the neighbouring villages.
“Demand levelled off for a while over the summer but now, with a new wave of job losses, we are seeing the numbers rise again. We’ve increased capacity to be able to support up to 100 households each week in the coming months but are mindful that this may not be sufficient over the winter,” she says.
Supplies from supermarket donation bins fell off at the start of the pandemic but Ruth praises people’s generosity. “When they couldn’t give food they have given money. Again the local Rotary Clubs stepped in, teaming up with a local wholesale supplier to provide fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the summer.”
Rotary has also provided another much-needed lifeline through its Rotary4foodbanks scheme, a major regional initiative which buys food in bulk and distributes it free to around 50 foodbanks across the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
“The Rotary4foodbanks scheme has delivered pallet-loads of staple items we sometimes find it hard to come by – coffee, tinned fruit, tuna & tinned meat – in volume to stock our shelves for the coming months. That, coupled with the excellent support we receive from local supermarkets and organisations like FareShare provides the supplies we need to ensure no-one goes hungry in our area as the recession bites.”
Ruth says the rural nature of the community they serve brings its own particular problems of isolation, on top of all the problems of furlough, reduced working hours and redundancies that are increasing due to the current pandemic.
“Families, especially single-parent families, can feel a real sense of isolation. Hungry and hard up, that can lead to real despair,” she explains. “The very fact that someone comes to their door with vital supplies and unconditional support is really helping struggling families get by.”
She cites the example of a low income local family with four children where one parent had been laid off and the other had had their working hours reduced. “Our volunteers arrive on the doorstep with much-needed food supplies – tins, fresh fruit and veg and ready meals. And, thanks to the surplus stock donated by M&S, the package was also topped off with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers. It provided a real boost for a family struggling to survive and with no resources to treat themselves to the kind of luxuries we all need to keep our spirits up.”
“For the whole team at Jigsaw, our mission is to help people who find themselves in difficulty through no fault of their own. With the continued support of others in the local community as well as the supermarkets and Rotary4foodbanks, we won’t stop striving to make life better for families in need as the winter bites.”
Rotary4foodbanks has set up a justgiving page to make it easy for people to donate. Because the scheme is run entirely by volunteers it has no overheads. That means every penny given goes directly to buying food at discounted prices for delivery to local foodbanks.