Sunday night I was sat in a fancy hotel room waiting for our Work Christmas Party festivities to kick off the following day; having arrived in Berlin a day early to see some sights and catch up with friends. Unfortunately I arrived, my bag didn’t. I was less than pleased, but I managed to nip and buy an outfit for the next day, toiletries and make-up. We went for some food and had a large G&T to take the edge off the situation. Doesn’t sound too bad when you put it like that, aye? But while I was sat there fuming about my lack of Bondi Sands for Monday’s party there are people at home who are struggling to put together a meal. It’s hard not to feel both extremely fortunate and a little guilty at the very thought.
Back in October I was invited to a Conference up at St James’ Park hosted by the Football Supporters Federation on the topic of ‘Fans Supporting Foodbanks’. A handful of clubs across the country but predominantly in the North had been working tirelessly to forge a link between their football clubs and their local foodbanks. I left Newcastle that afternoon with a head full of information and ideas, and ever since I’ve felt not only inspired but compelled to act. More about that later…
Firstly what is a foodbank and how does it function? I’ve faced a fair bit of backlash on social media from people who do not understand how a foodbank works, and so I feel it important to underline it here before going any further. A foodbank provides food parcels to those who are for whatever reason struggling to feed themselves or their families; there are a multitude of issues that might see someone visit one of the UK’s 100’s of foodbanks.
So how does it work*?
- Non-perishable in-date food is donated by the public at a range of places, such as schools, churches and business, as well as supermarket collection points. It is then sorted into emergency food parcels by over 40,000 volunteers, to be given to people in need.
- Care professionals such as health visitors, schools and social workers identify people in crisis and issue them with a foodbank voucher. This entitles them to receive a foodbank parcel of three days’ nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food.
- Foodbanks also offer a lot more than food. Volunteers provide a listening ear to clients over a warm drink, and signpost people to other charities and agencies who can help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.
*(Taken from The Trussell Trust Website)
Now that’s cleared up, back to the FSF Conference and ‘Fans Supporting Foodbanks’. Upon returning to Birmingham I immediately set about contacting as many influential people as I could; to start I focused on the region’s main 4 football clubs – namely Aston Villa, West Brom, Wolves and Birmingham City. But I also reached out to many more, actively seeking out influential fans via social media. At the same time I contacted the local foodbanks in the region, asking for their advice and also information on things they were short of etc. Things slowly started coming together and throughout December we’ve had some real successes that I wanted to share with you.
Saturday 9th December – Wolves v. Sunderland (Molineux)
Wolves were the first club to get back to me – they were really keen to set a date and get something in place. We agreed between us on the 9th December and confirmed the location as the Info Centre under the Stan Cullis Stand. The collection was advertised at length on social media by the club, myself and the foodbank (The Well). We set up our banner, tweeted a picture to say we were open for collections and the food rolled in. I was a little overwhelmed to be honest with the amount that individuals were dropping off, bags and bags of non perishable items and a few luxuries soon filled the entire floorspace. Next we took over the tables, boxing items as we went to attempt to keep some kind of order and standing space. Even Sunderland fans who had heard about the collection were dropping off items.
When the lovely Gary & Caroline from The Well came to collect, we quickly agreed the van they’ve bought was not going to be big enough, and they agreed with the club to return at a later date with a bigger van. The collection was split between The Well and the Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen.
Saturday 16th December – Blues v. QPR (St Andrews)
The Blues though it pains me to say as a Villa fan, have been fantastic. The club have gone above and beyond to ensure Saturday’s collection was a success; from player interviews to a really strong social media campaign. Our collection points were positioned right outside The Kop and near the Family Zone at The Eze Group Stand. The interesting thing about the Blues collection was some of the stories we heard on the day. Fans who had used foodbanks in the past themselves really hit hard; especially when they were now coming along with an armful of tins to donate. There was also the young girl who bought us two tins of soup after using her own pocket money to purchase them and the lovely chap who insisted the box of chocolates in the bag were for me.
Another bumper collection, that once again filled the van and currently our storage unit.
Saturday 23rd December – Villa v. Sheff Utd (Villa Park)
So Wolves have done it. Blues have done it. Really hope the Villa fans get onboard with our Foodbank collection next sat. We’ll be hosting a carol service at the Aston Parish Church (right near the ground, you’ll know it). The service is open to all with refreshments provided by the club. However if singing isn’t for you please pop some loose change in our buckets as you pass by. Now this is slightly different with a cash collection rather than a food collection but at current it is what the club/foodbank would prefer, mostly due to the fact that the foodbank will be closed until January 3rd and this cash injection will really give them a boost upon reopening in the new year. All cash donations will go directly to the Aston & Nechells Foodbank.
These successes I hope are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to really supporting our local foodbanks here in the Midlands. If you’d like more information on hosting your own club collection or just want to chat over some ideas, or anything really, I am more than happy to be involved and help where I can. Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
With big thanks to: Charlie @ Wolves, Rachele @ Blues, Lee, Guy, and Lucy @ Villa, Philip @ Aston Parish, Gary & Caroline @ The Well, Charlotte @ Bham Central Foodbank, Gareth @ Sparkhill Foodbank, Rosemary @ Aston & Nechells Foodbank, my wonderful volunteers, Stuart @ NUFC Foodbank, the guys up at Everton/Liverpool and Celtic FC for the inspiration and of course each and every person who has donated whether it be a tin of soup or 4 bags of rice. Thank you!