As the foodbank has grown and become more active the role of manager has moved from being a day-to-day job to one that requires more long term thinking. This has led to viewing the foodbank almost as a business in order to ensure that it is and will run. This includes looking at how many clients we will serve and how much food we will need. Focusing on all this administration can cause anyone managing the foodbank to lose sight of why they are really in the job, which is to feed those who come through our doors.
The clients who through our doors are incredibly varied and represent the very wide range of crises that can cause food poverty. The reason anyone decides to volunteer or work at a foodbank is to help these people through their short-term crisis, as well as to help them out of it. This can be challenging when faced with clients who are difficult with volunteers when receiving food. Part of the ethos of the foodbank is to not judge anyone who comes for help. All people referred to us are in need and we as volunteers do not know the full extent of their history. It is dangerous to judge people based on your first conversation with them. Clients must be made as comfortable as possible in the foodbank and volunteers and employees must strive to ensure that even if they find it difficult or uncomfortable.
A difficult part of running a foodbank and managing volunteers is to not be bound by rules or structures. As a foodbank in the Trussell Trust network we are obliged to provide a minimum level of quality service to our clients. We are also instructed to follow volunteer and stock processes provided to us in the operating manual and by Trussell staff. However in practice it is not always possible to do everything by the book.
This is particularly true when encountering clients who come through our doors. It is important to not pre-judge anyone who comes to our foodbank and everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt. So if there is something wrong with the voucher they provided or they are collecting on behalf of someone else it is important to not turn them away on technicalities. A rule is that if someone comes through the door with a food voucher they are provided with a food parcel. Issues with the voucher or the person should then be dealt through the referral agency they receieved the voucher from. We at the foodbank are volunteers and not trained frontline care professionals. We are therefore not in any position to assess or make judgements of clients. This is why the voucher system is so important. But as with all systems it will not always work perfectly every time.
When the idea of starting a foodbank in the Chaplaincy was thought of by the Chaplaincy SVP, it was only an idea. Many of the members of both the Chaplaincy and the SVP did not have much clue about how a foodbank operates in practice. A member of the SVP then found out about the Trussell Trust and the foodbank network they operated.
The Trussell Trust runs a franchise model for helping to create foodbank around the country. They ask for a sign-up fee, followed by an annual payment, in order to a part of their network. On first impressions this did not strike us as something a new charity should have to do. However after several meetings with other Trussell Trust foodbank, we were convinced that it would be worth it.
The major thing you receive after paying the sign-up fee is a 'Foodbank Operating Manual'. This manual provided on a cd, explains every procedure and step to setting up a foodbank. It is so comprehensive that you do not even need previous experience in the charity sector to set up a foodbank. The manual provides information from how to run supermarket food drives to warehouse management to the distribution of food. It even helps with budgeting and health and safety regulations. Without all this information the foodbank most likely would not have been established as quickly as it was.
The Operating Manual is changed and refined every year or two. This is because the Trussell Trust is constantly learning new things as well as adapting to the changing situation of food poverty. The first Trussell foodbank was started in 2002 and the manual documents everything that has been learned since then by all new Trussell foodbanks. A great advantage of this manual also is that it will keep improving as even more foodbanks join in the network.
It also guarantees that no matter which Trussell Trust foodbank you go to in the UK, you will always be provided with the same level of service, from people who all are motivated by the christian ethos of the charity.
This is a resource that ensures that when a foodbank opens they are completely prepared for any situation they may come across and that mistakes are not repeated around the country.
The Manchester Central Foodbank would not be where it was today without this amazing resource provided by the Trussell Trust, along with the continuing support of the charity staff and the national partnerships they help to build. The Trussell Trust does more than provide foodbanks with resources but also is able to unite everyone in knowing they are part of a national effort.