Feeding change, supporting Newtownards Foodbank and the local community

Around the globe, it’s estimated that more than 795 million people don’t get enough food to eat. The problem isn’t just overseas, it’s more important than ever to offer support to people in local communities, and to consider the positive impact smaller projects can have on peoples’ lives.

Zoe Dunlop, a Customer Service Officer for Ulster Bank, has been helping her local community in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by volunteering at her local food bank. Zoe explains why this project is so much more than giving people something to eat; it’s a vital place in the town where people can come together to help those in need.

“Foodbanks aren’t just about food; they’re about providing support, and helping people to find organisations that can help them get back on their feet when they need it” she explains.

The importance of the project

Of course, providing much needed nutrition to people is a huge part of what the Newtownards Foodbank does. The foodbank is organised by the Trussel Trust, which runs a network of more than 400 foodbanks across the UK.

“We provide non-perishable, in-date food that’s been donated and collected at schools, churches and businesses” says Zoe.

Clients are referred to the foodbank from social care and other organisations, and they’re given vouchers to exchange for 3 days of food. However, if someone does come in without being referred, they won’t be turned away. After the food is donated, it’s sorted by a group of volunteers into packages suitable for either a single person or family sizes. There are many different jobs to be done in the foodbank, and Zoe takes on a number of them as part of her volunteering.

More than just a food bank

Zoe tells me, “When clients come in, we give them a hot drink and a listening ear. Being from the area myself, I tend to recognise quite a few of the people that come in. Sometimes it’s a complete surprise, and you meet people you wouldn’t have expected to see there – which can be emotional. I think it’s good that the service is confidential, because we always try to make everyone feel as comfortable as they can”.

The volunteers at the foodbank have strong relationships with various support organisations, including social workers and the local council. The foodbank puts people in touch with organisations that can help them with issues like economic troubles and resolving their issues, like previously homeless people acquiring some basic furniture for their new homes.

All walks of life

“We’ve had quite a few people come in because their benefits have been sanctioned”, Zoe points out.

Recent research from the Trussel Trust highlighted that the main reasons people use the foodbanks is because they’re affected by benefit delays and changes, as well as low incomes. Zoe explains that the people who need support from the foodbank come from all different backgrounds and circumstances. There are people who’ve been made redundant, people on low income wages, those with unexpected bills, or people who have lost income as a result of being bereaved or separated from partners or families.

For Zoe, many of the people she’s helped over the years have stuck in her mind.

“We delivered food to a lady’s house because she wasn’t able to leave and come to us. I’ve never seen a house like it, it was really run down and damp. When we gave her food, the woman burst into tears because she was so grateful. Since then, she’s had more support, and has been able to get back on her feet – she’s even donating regularly to the foodbank, and amazingly, has now volunteered there herself to support others like her”.

Food for thought

Zoe says she’s learnt a great deal from volunteering at the foodbank.

“You go home feeling very grateful that you’ve got a roof over your head and food in the fridge. They’ll always be people who need support, and it’s important we all work together to help them, because it isn’t easy for them”.

Ulster Bank’s branches are showing their support for local communities across Northern Ireland by acting as collection points for foodbank donations. The idea was formed after Zoe began discussing her work with the Ulster Bank Business Community Partner, Gillian Orr. Branches in Scotland had already begun acting as collection points, and Zoe, Gillian and their colleagues were keen to be involved.

“It’s a great way of showing Ulster Bank’s commitment to supporting communities across Northern Ireland and using our resources and time to support those people in need.” Gillian tells us.

The initiative has since grown to include at least 17 branches, offering local community members in need a brighter future.

Interested in finding out more?

Read more about Newtownards Foodbank and their work.