Volunteers and staff who delivered more than 25,000 food parcels to families with small children during the pandemic have been warmly thanked by the council and those they supported.
Demand for food parcels rose by almost 400% at Brighton & Hove City Council’s Children Centres’ food banks in April 2021 when the nation first went into lockdown.
'If it wasn't for your parcels, I’m not sure how we would have survived'
To cope with the surge in demand, staff at the centres stepped out of their usual roles to expand the food banks. They were soon joined by ten volunteers who were keen to help those most impacted by the impact of the pandemic.
Three Children’s Centre foodbanks were merged into a single site at Tarner Children’s Centre, and, working with Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, the team supported a total of 433 families between 4 March 2020 and 4 November 2021.
This compared to an average of just 40 families prior to the Covid pandemic.
All the families had children under five and to be eligible they needed to be under the care of a health visitor. A total 526 children under five were supported, including 143 babies less than 12 months old.
Most families received three parcels during that period, putting the total delivered at more than 25,000. Seven of the volunteers worked as delivery drivers whilst three helped packed the parcels of food. There were also many additional deliveries of emergency supplies such as nappies, bedding, toys and toiletries.
The food bank deliveries came to an end in November as families with children under four who are in receipt of certain benefits are now being issued with Supermarket vouchers which have been funded by the Governments Household Support Fund
Volunteers were invited to an event on 1 December thanking them for their 18 months' of service. As well as receiving a huge thank you from city council staff, touching feedback from recipients of the food parcels for both staff and volunteers was read out, including:
'You have saved our lives'
“You have saved our lives. Without your friendly staff we would not have had nappies for our baby or enough food to get through a week. It lifted our spirits to be given such support.”
“It’s been invaluable to me and my babies. The lady who drops my food is so kind, and I know there is no judgment. I am made to feel at ease. Thank you so very much to all of you.”
“If it wasn't for your food parcels and for the Tarner Centre, I’m not sure how we would survive or cope in the pandemic and lockdowns.”
Angela Bantock, the Children’s Centre Manager at Tarner, took on the role of managing the food bank: “These were was unprecedented times. There were some families who really didn’t have anything, and many of the families were needing food parcels for the first time.
“Our volunteers went over and above to help the families – I have never known anything like it. They have all been amazing. They ranged from a furloughed young man in his early 20s to retired people in their 60s. Some fitted volunteering around work and parenting.”
Olivia Sunda - volunteer foodbank driver
'Children are so innocent and should always have a full tummy!'
Olivia Sunda, a tattooist and parent from Brighton, volunteered as a food bank driver in April 2020, as Covid 19 restrictions meant she could not work.
“I wanted to help children and their families at a difficult time. It was eye opening to meet families – especially their children – in situations where they can’t afford enough food. It could so easily have been myself and my 4-year-old daughter.
“Children are so innocent and at the very least should always have a full tummy!
“One memory I particularly treasure is of a couple of children who really looked forward to me knocking on the door and would always run out to greet me. One little girl would bring me a different toy to show me each week at the door. I so enjoyed giving her a giant chocolate bunny at Easter and seeing her little face light up.”
Fellow volunteer food bank driver, Helen, said: “It was good to feel that I was doing something worthwhile. It certainly helped me mentally to have the volunteering to give some purpose during lockdown.”
Five food bank volunteers along with staff were thanked at a small event on 1 December
A massive thank you
Hannah Clare, chair of Children, Young People & Skills Committee, said: “I’d like to say a massive thank you to the food bank volunteers for the time they have given over the last 18 months supporting vulnerable families.
“At a time of such unprecedented need, we would never have been able to support so many without the precious time they gave.”
“I’d also like to thank our Children's Centres staff who stepped outside of their usual responsibilities and have gone above and beyond to support families.
“All should be very proud of what they have done to save so many young children from being hungry.”
Find out more about Brighton and Hove’s Children's Centres.
More memories from our volunteers
Olivia Sunda - volunteer food bank driver
“I became a food bank volunteer in April 2020 because I wanted to give some time to help children and their families to make things slightly easier for them at such a difficult time.
“It was eye-opening to meet families – especially their children – in situations where they can’t afford enough food. It could so easily have been myself and my 4-year-old daughter. Children are so innocent and at the very least should always have a full tummy!
“It was so rewarding meeting the same people each week as you delivered their food. Often it'd be their last delivery because they'd got a job/sorted their finances and they'd be so thankful and grateful for the support over that time. My favourite part was seeing them move on and no longer need the deliveries
“I have many special memories from the food deliveries but one I particularly treasure is of a couple of children who really looked forward to me knocking on the door and would always run out to greet me. One little girl would bring me a different toy to show me each week at the door. I so enjoyed giving her a giant chocolate bunny at Easter and seeing her little face light up.”
Helen - a volunteer food bank driver
“It was good to feel that I was doing something worthwhile at a time when it was difficult to do anything at all. It was good to feel that I could go out and actually directly help other people and see an instant result when I handed over the food.
“During the horrible time of lockdown it certainly helped me mentally to have the volunteering to give some purpose. It’s also given me a bit more of an understanding of the difficulties some people face and made me appreciate how lucky I am.
“It was rewarding as I was delivering food directly to someone who needed it. I also enjoyed getting to know some of the staff at Tarner. There was definitely a feeling that everyone was working together on an important job.
“Meeting the children at the front door was always fun. They were always so excited to see the bags and usually tried to lift the heaviest. I remember one family who lived in a high-rise block.
By the time I’d step out of the lift they were all lined up in the doorway with the kids jumping up and down and everyone smiling. One week they were all dressed up for Ramadan and everyone was very excited.
“Some of the families were very chatty and some hardly said a word, but it was always interesting to get a glimpse into their lives.”