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Good InfoIs this the blueprint for a food bank that’s more human? -...

Is this the blueprint for a food bank that’s more human? – Positive News

It’s a complete mystery what food you’ll be leaving with when you arrive at one of the 90 UK hubs run by The Bread and Butter Thing. What’s guaranteed, however, is a chat with some friendly faces and lots of cups of tea. Experts will also be on hand for advice on getting a job, finding social housing, signing up to baby-parent classes or dealing with mental health issues.  

The contents of the food bags might be unknown but everything is surplus food that would otherwise be wasted. This is a food bank with a difference. 

Food comes from farms, factories and supermarkets. It could be a side of salmon, a whole celeriac, a punnet of strawberries and much else destined for the bin. 

As a result, more than 100 tonnes of perfectly edible produce are saved from being wasted each week (equivalent to 1m meals a month) – all while helping its 45,000 members collectively save over £4.8m every year.  

The Bread and Butter Thing’s impact is evident in big numbers but also in less measurable ways. For example, it has brought nutritious food at a low cost to so-called ‘food deserts’ (places in the country that lack access to fresh food) and its hubs have allowed people to swap suggestions for healthy dishes. Long-lasting change in struggling neighbourhoods is the name of the game here.  

It hasn’t gone unrecognised. The Bread and Butter Thing scooped the title of Community Partnership of the Year at the most recent Global Good Awards. Established in 2015, the awards recognise businesses, NGOs, charities and social enterprises around the world that are “blazing the trail for purpose-driven sustainability and ethical leadership”. The Bread and Butter Thing captured judges’ imaginations immediately.

CEO Mark Game shares what he sees as the project’s USP: “The Bread and Butter Thing is about creating routes out of poverty and building strong communities,” he says. “Over 80% of our members have previously had to skip meals to feed their families. Now, most save at least £25 a week on their food budgets, with the added benefits of better quality and a bigger variety of food.” 

Anyone can sign up for free by visiting the website to find their nearest hub. They can expect to be greeted by friendly volunteers – like Lynne Daley – who give up their time to help their communities. Here’s what Daley gets up to on a typical day …  

‘It feeds my soul.’ A typical day for a The Bread and Butter Thing hub volunteer 

9am: I always turn up happy. I look forward to Mondays and Thursdays, as they’re the days when I volunteer for The Bread and Butter Thing. I heard about the charity last year through an over-50s social group I go to. I’d retired from my job as a school lunchtime organiser and was looking for something to keep me busy. Now, I volunteer twice a week and get so much joy from it.   

11am:  After I settle in, I catch up with the eight or so other volunteers. Some of us are retired, while others are young people who want to give back. I’ve made so many friends here. Depending on the day, I’ll either head to Withington Library or Ascension Church near my home in Hulme, Manchester. Each place hosts a ‘hub’ once a week. 

11.30am: A refrigerated van turns up (driven by a fellow volunteer) and we all help to unload it. There’ll be crates of fresh fruit and veg, plus store-cupboard staples like bread and pasta and chilled goods like butter and milk. Last week, there were grapes, strawberries, carrots, onions, apples and cauliflowers, plus fresh fish and cheese. It’s extraordinary to think that all of this stuff could have gone to waste. After we’ve unloaded everything, we pack it into bags. Each customer gets three bags for £8.50: one full of fruit and veg, one of chilled goods and one of cupboard staples. It’s great value for money, as the products are often worth well over £35.   

We encourage people to stay and chat. It’s about more than food – it’s about building community

12pm: We put plenty of chairs out, so that customers can enjoy a sit down. And one of us will start making tea and coffee, ensuring that there are plenty of biscuits and cakes. We encourage people to stay and chat. It’s about more than food – it’s about building community.  

1pm: Members start arriving and I get a lot of hugs. We welcome around 80 people each week and they’re a real mix of ages, from teenage students to young mums to elderly people. We greet regulars by name and get an update on their lives. Often, we’ll have a chat about what’s in the bags and discuss what meals people might make. Many say that they eat more healthily as a result of The Bread and Butter Thing, as there’s so much fresh fruit and veg.  

1.30pm: A queue will form and we dish out the shopping bags. One older gentleman comes in every week and we always put him at the front. He has an illness and this is often his only outing all week. Everybody cares about each other at the hubs. When I was absent due to an operation, everyone was asking after me. It’s the same for customers: if vulnerable older people haven’t been in for a while, we know to check in on them.  

2pm: Once everyone has their shopping, we’ll sit down for a cuppa and a chat. It’s a brilliant atmosphere; very warm and relaxed. The Bread and Butter Thing often organises for experts to come and chat to the community about things like mental health or social housing. Last year, the team gave out free tablet devices to help people get online, so they could apply for jobs and make enquiries about benefits. There’s more to the charity than meets the eye. 

3pm: As everyone heads home, I’ll collect shopping for members who can’t get to the hub in person because they’re unwell or have young children. My husband will pick me up in his car and we’ll drop the bags off on our way home. I get such satisfaction from helping people and everyone is always so grateful. But volunteering helps me, too: it feeds my soul.  

The Bread and Butter Thing in numbers 

Every week, it saves more than 100 tonnes of food from being wasted

That’s 1m meals a month – and around 190,000kg of CO2

Its 45,000+ members collectively save over £4.8m annually on their household shopping

In 2022, it supported 14,000 households out of crisis.

Main image: Rebecca-Lupton


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