This is how vulnerable people in Doncaster could be fed in current crisis through 'food union'

For one of Doncaster’s best known foodbanks, demand has more than doubled as the Covid 19 emergency has taken hold.

By David Kessen
Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 5:13 pm
Updated Monday, 11th May 2020, 12:39 pm

And that has mean new pressure on supplies.

But this week, there is a helping hand available – with the creation of an organisation which aims to help make sure that no is one going hungry because they have run out of money or cannot get to the shops.

Charities, not-for-profit groups, public authorities and major businesses have pitched in under new ‘food unions’ that have been set up to link up food supplied in the borough.

Ian and Alyson Mayer, of Manna

They have initially been set up as a Doncaster North food union and a Don Valley food union. There are plans for a third one in Doncaster Central.

Two community interest companies, Manna in Bentley and the Food Aware in Mexborough have been involved in setting up the scheme which is mixing food supply and food distribution, and intend it to work in a similar way to a credit union.

It is also involving assistance from Doncaster Council officials, and major employers. Supermarkets have put in major donations of food from stock, and one of Doncaster’s biggest employers, Polypipe, based in Edlington, has provided the scheme with a full time van and driver for distribution.

Ian Mayer, who runs Manna in Bentley, the organisation behind Bentley Pavilion and key supporters of Bentley urban farm, said the idea for a food union came when COVID-19 threatened to completely shut down its community and social enterprise operations. He said: “We needed to ensure we could continue to deliver services and support to the local community.

Ian Mayer, of Manna

“It’s different to a food bank – it’s more like a credit union in that if you’ve got food you can pay in and if you haven’t you can draw on it. There is enough food, but it is about sharing it.”

It will mean that if one part of Doncaster is short of a particular foodstuff, they can draw from another one, while it may donate food to another area if it has a large stock of something.

And food may go to people who are not hard-up, but may be vulnerable and are unable to get out due to social isolation.

Food Aware has a wide network of suppliers from its work as a foodbank, and its managing director Sean Gibbons has been dropping off food to sites all across Doncaster this week.

Mark Dockerty and Sean Gibbons, pictured outside Mexborough Family Hub. Picture: NDFP-24-03-20 Food Volunteers 3-NMSY

He said: “Last week was the busiest we have ever been – it has gone ballistic. We took the van to Tickhill, Intake, Thorne and Moorends, Skellow, Woodlands, Highfields, Mexorough, Conisbrough and Denaby, and Rossington.

“We need more supplies for grass roots people, and if we’ve not got food pre-ordered from the supermarket companies in advance, the shops won’t let us take large quantities.

“On Friday we had 30 food parcels to deliver in Mexborough. Usually it would be 12 to 15.”

Another issue they have faced is that referrals have become more difficult. Places like the Citizens Advice Bureau have not been open.

Clare Hodgen, a volunteer collecting the food at Tickhill, with the Don Valley food union

They have had help from major supermarkets. For instance, Lidl recentely donated around £10,000 worth of food from its distribution centre.

The food union is also trying to fill gaps which have been created by some of the food banks, such as Rossington and Bentley, closing because their teams of volunteers were in vulnerable age groups who have been advised to self isolate.

But there are issues that they need to sort out, including finding a central storage area where groups can access food. Mr Gibbons is currently hoping someone will lend the food union a warehouse in a cenral Doncaster location that would fit the bill, something that would all for around 50 pallets to be stored, as an alternative to Food Aware’s main storage warehouse at Hellaby, in Rotherham. He is urging anyone with suitable premises to contact him on [email protected]

Fresh food items which have been donated will not always store. Doncaster Council has now helped arrange the use of the kitchens at Saltersgate Primary School at Scawsby, so that Manna can use the fresh food to cook ready-made meals that are disributed frozen.

Vicki Dawson, whose day job is running The Sleep Charity, is co-ordinating a new Don Valley food union.

Vicki, is also arranging services within her home village of Tickhill, which she said did not have the structures that were in places in areas which have had food banks already up and running.

Prepared meals, made by the Doncaster North food union

They have now found a place to store food in the village and are making arrangements for its distribution to those who need it in the town.

She is also liaising with organisions elsewhere in the Don Valley constituency such as Rossington, so that they can work together.

They have also been finding creative ways to use fresh food that cannot be stored. Last week, Lesley Cox at the Deli 28 cafe in Tickhill turned a huge pile of bananas into banana cake, which is being distributed in food parcels.

Vicki said: “A big problem we had was that we did not have an established arrangement. We didn’t have links with the supermarkets, and there are groups setting up with similar issues.”

She thinks the scheme will be a big help in her communiy.

She said: “We are also taking packs to people are are not able to get out to get money. The idea of this being like a credit union makes it easier for them to accept donations, because they feel that they can put something back later.”

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