The Isle of Man Foodbank, set up and run by Neal Mellon, with a band of volunteers, is providing much needed support for men, women and children across the island.
Gef visited the Foodbank this past week, keeping our two metres at all times, to see what measures it has taken during Covid and for Neal to explain more about the work it does. As we got there, Robinson’s and Agrimark were dropping off a large donation, just two of the many Manx businesses which support the Foodbank throughout the year.
After it was first opened in December 2013, Neal said they provided 150 parcels in its first 12 months. But demand has risen steadily and from April to the end of December 2020, it helped 3,382 households, with an average of 375 food parcels being distributed each month. They expect to exceed 5,000 parcels this year.
Keeping it Fresh
While many food banks in the UK rely solely on non-perishable food, the Isle of Man Foodbank also handles a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. While it currently has fridges and freezers, donated by local businesses, it also intends to build a walk in chiller to help keep food fresher for longer.
To ensure that people receive the food they need, the Foodbank splits its freezers to separate vegan and vegetarian food from meat. Neal said this is important because the Foodbank takes pride in its work to ‘match parcels to people, not the other way around’. Rather than treating all clients the same, the Foodbank prepares parcels for families with a range of needs, for example if a family member is vegetarian and another is lactose intolerant, they will design a parcel around them. Equally if a family has young children, it ensures they get a treat like some sweets as well as good food.
As well as people food, the Foodbank also receives and donates pet food, as Neal said that people who have pets would sometimes be giving their animals meat and leave themselves to eat less nutritious food.
Working With The Prison
While providing food to support people and families, the Foodbank also takes a social aspect to its work. Some ingredients are sent to the prison to allow inmates on a course to prepare meals, which are then frozen, returned to the Foodbank and distributed to families.
Neal said: ‘We have a project that we’ve been working on for over two years now. Our larger cuts of meat go up to the prison, they use it as a teaching platform for inmates. They prepare the food, put it into sauces. So a large joint will perhaps get 20-30 portions out of it.
‘It means that inmates are also coming out with better experience, better CVs and could even look towards working in catering. We know that if they come out and have a home to go to and have a job, they are less likely to reoffend. So we hope it makes a difference and of course the one thing the island always needs is catering staff so it’s a win, win all the way through.’
Teach a Man to Cook
The Foodbank is also looking to offer cooking classes to people it supports, to ensure they can move away from relying on ready meals and can properly use ingredients provided.
Neal said: ‘Over the years I’ve seen a lot of spoiled meals and burnt meals and some clients have missed out on home economics as it used to get called at school, or have just never been taught how to cook. It’s alright us gathering the food in and donating it, to give people what they need. But it would be better if we can teach them how to use it effectively so that’s one of our key targets for this year.’
He added that the Foodbank has done this on a small scale with individual clients and it has proved a success, so the charity is now confident it can step this up.
As with so many aspects of everyone’s lives, Covid has impacted on the demands of the Foodbank and seen more families turn to the charity for help. While Christmas is a typically busy period for the Foodbank, Lockdown 2.0 has seen a new surge in demand, with Neal expecting to hand out 622 food parcels in January, a 60% increase on the monthly average figure as the economic and social reality of a Covid Lockdown.
Neal explained that the Foodbank has had to alter its policies during lockdown as people aren’t able to come in, they have organised a pick up service, with parcels made up and ready to go with people coming at an allotted time to load into their car. And for those who don’t have their own cars, they’ve even been able to do some deliveries, particularly for people who are shielding due to the virus.
While the Foodbank has seen a growing number of people asking for help in the recent weeks and months, Neal says that it will always seek to help as many people as possible, as Neal says, ‘no persona and particularly no child should go hungry’. But to do this, the Foodbank needs the support of the Great Manx Public. This could include financial support, donating food at one of the many drop off points around the island, or by volunteering your time to help prepare parcels or pick up donations.
To make donations to the foodbank, to access its support, or to volunteer, it can be found on Facebook, Isle of Man Foodbank, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://isleofmanfoodbank.wordpress.com. Or you can ring them on 646999, 311550 or Freephone 0808 1624 610.
This year, Gef is donating proceeds from official Chips, Cheese & Gravy Day Merch to the Food Bank. You can shop the range here