Diary of a Food Club Support Worker

My name is Simon and I work for a national charity. The following is an insight into working on a food redistribution project across Bristol in challenging and changing times. Opinions and observations are mine, and are not representative of my employer and names have been changed to protect the brilliant.

Here we go again. Tension cranks up a bit, as people are getting tetchy and concerned by some of the strangeness of this week. The roads are noticeably busier. Are people naturally beginning to return to old habits, or is this something they’ve picked up on in the daily briefings and the press.

It’s hard to describe that level of confusion and contradiction, where people are tired and bored but also wary and scared. Our families still seem happy to be out of the house and continue to smile and plod on in spite of some of the obvious challenges they are facing. It’s staggering to think of the fuss that is created by those with privilege to get their ‘message’ out there, when those in the most difficult of circumstances are coping with unimaginable pressures and simply getting on with it. These are the forgotten people, they don’t stamp and scream, don’t tweet, post or share, don’t dictate, patronise or overpower, they just get on with it. They don’t have time or energy to pontificate or preach; they’re too busy with their families, they’re sometimes scared, sometimes exhausted and simply trying to do all the things we are supposed to be doing. Doesn’t make a good headline though…

Nice positive start to this daft week. We made it into the Times again, although Paul spilt his coffee on it, in true slapstick fashion. Donations will go to the Big Issue and my charity and will partly be used to support Food Clubs. This was swiftly followed by a giant delivery from Morrisons, this one was funded through Feeding Bristol/Feeding Britain and involved a considerable amount of pasta. It’s not always easy to decide how funding should be spent, when you get it, but in this case I think we got it right. We went for some basics that all families would need, and that we could distribute to all Food Clubs throughout the week. Stephen and Jane selflessly come along and help unload.

Here is the link to the appeal.

Emma is in control at Knowle West, she unpacked, organises and even manages to send pictures of recipes that members could use. Dedication.

It appears to be MASH week. All clubs received these giant ready made mash packets. A nice little challenge for the professional and amateur cooks amongst us. It tasted pretty good and with some embellishment can be spectacular. We also received some giant lemons. It might be the perspective but to give you some scale, that is around the size of a human head.

Tuesday

We unload the first batch of frozen meals from the National Food Service. They have been coordinating some emergency response meals in collaboration with established catering outlets. They have generously donated a stack of Thali Chicken and Vegetable curries. Plus some nice meals from Cafe Kino, the notorious vegan cafe in Stokes Croft. This is good news; it’s quality food and we know that the meat is Halal which is much needed. We store some in Inns Court and St Pauls. Click below if you want to find out more about what they do.

It’s definitely a week for unusual ingredients. The catering industry is still dealing with the stresses of rapid change and we benefit from these unusual beasts.

Redcliffe continues to be happy beyond the call of duty and Broomhill is ticking along nicely. The day ends at Knowle West with a steady stream of contented members who we enthusiastically give our seal of approval to the mashed potato.

It’s an intimidating bag!

Wednesday

St Pauls is a finely tuned engine now and Redcliffe has grown into a real community event. The queue has built up significantly and Sue is performing the bouncer duties with ease. Joan is a maverick and has completed a Food Club first, she recruited someone off the street. Just went over and talked to them, found out their circumstances and got them signed up. Astounding outreach.

The sky is vivid blue, it may be because of the lack of cars on the roads, it may be because there is time to stop and stare. This bubble of Bristol feels outside of the average experience of this city. We get a few apologetic members that have missed a week or two.

We are trying to get a balance. On the one hand there are products like olives that not everyone likes, we have enough but don’t want people to take home food they won’t eat so we put them on the side. On the other hand we often have a few higher value items that we can sell as extras. At Redcliffe we have Galaxy Truffles for £1 and No 7 face cream for £2, alongside olives and whipping cream that members can help themselves to .

Thursday

Early start to create some little potato bondas for the staff at Hartcliffe to test. Growing up in the West Midlands and Leicester, then moving to Hounslow has meant that I have always been surrounded by fabulous South Asian food. I love experimenting with new ingredients and in Hounslow in particular I was able to go to some wonderful shops and “travel” around the world to find unusual ingredients. In Bristol, the Sweet Mart, Maliks and others satisfy that need. I make up a recipe to use the pre cooked mash, incorporating lemon juice, ginger, garlic, fresh coriander and chilli. Add a simple batter of chana flour and turmeric to coat the little balls, then fry and you’ve got a delicious little snack. I sneak around the Inns Court kitchen and snap a blurred photo, but you get the jist. Later I find out Jasmine has simultaneously been making amazing coloured gnocchi with the massive mash. Serendipity.

Hartcliffe is a hive of activity, the box is good and we are still getting the odd new member. It’s sunny and the morning flies by. A delivery of 200 Warburton loaves has arrived at Inns court, unfortunately too late for the morning clubs but will make it into the afternoon. I make the dash to Speedwell to drop off 40 and back to Square Food for their cracking lasagne which will be on the menu at Inns Court. It’s a tight turn around and it’s boiling hot and I return to Inns Court late. Antonia is giving out the boxes and is in her element, chatting away with members and offering a brief but sincere shoulder of support to around 40 families. Incredible.

What’s also incredible is the dedication that Stephen has shown to Food Clubs, I helped him with his CV this week and I know that whoever employs him has struck gold. This picture is that perfect mix of the abnormal becoming normal. Who would have thought this would be normal, a couple of months ago.

Friday

Loaves are flung out across the city, more meals from Thali/National Food Service and a ska soundtrack to a busy Hartcliffe club. The clubs are generally running themselves now, the dedication of the staff and volunteers is what makes them successful. Our job is made easier by working with people who genuinely want to help others and when those people are part of their professional caseload that does make it even more important. Our volunteers have really bought in to the concept of Food Clubs. When so many people are staying at home or are trapped in furloughed jobs, I guess it helps to focus the mind and allows people to see clearly. They have a desire to help others, working with us allows them to do this.

Unhelpful speculation about Sunday’s announcements from the government has led to heightened fears amongst the people I have met. We may be working in a different landscape next week. How it will affect daily operations and interactions remains to be seen. The last 7 weeks have been an opportunity for many to show their best side, to slow down and think about others, to act with kindness and concern, to build relationships and friendships in a completely different manner. Whether this turns out to be something that changes our attitudes to so many things, also remains to be seen. I hope this journey has offered some hope, but I fear that forces beyond our control will dominate. How on earth can we keep a hold of the compassion and dedication that has emerged in the last few weeks? We will need to, in order to face the uncertainty and fear that is about to be let loose.

Written by

Food Club support worker and Lead Youth Worker at Bedminster Youth Club.

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