Buckie food bank team step up to pandemic crisis challenge
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TAKING the unexpected in their stride and helping those in need during hugely testing times has proved to be all in a day's work for one band of Buckie volunteers.
Lockdown, self-isolation and shielding threw normal life out the window and also plunged many people into a state of need most would never have anticipated.
Many local volunteer groups, existing and new, have stepped up admirably to the plate to meet this need. Among their number has been Buckie food bank, run by local Salvation Army officers Majors Bruce and Isobel Smith, backed by a dedicated team of volunteers. It has been operating from the Salvation Army hall on the town's New Street.
The food bank was originally set up by the couple in September 2017, a few months they were posted to the area, drawing on the experience they gained operating a food bank in their previous posting in the North Lanarkshire town of Airdrie.
Bruce said: "Prior to lockdown demand had been rising steadily since we started the food bank.
"The majority of the people we helped came to us because of the likes of benefit sanctions, relationship breakdown or simply not being able to make ends meet. Demand was seasonal – typically it was three times greater in the winter, when people had fuel bills and so on to pay, than the summer."
However, nothing could have prepared the Smiths, or anyone else, for what was to hit.
"There was a steep rise in demand after lockdown came in," Bruce continued.
"In all my 29 years as a Salvation Army officer I've never experienced anything like it.
"When we set up the food bank we never expected or anticipated having to deal with this level of demand in a place this size.
"There're a lot of different people coming to us for help, many who would never have had to come to us in normal circumstances. We've helped a lot of people who've been self-isolating or shielding.
"Some people have lost their jobs and are struggling to cope in the five or six week period until their first benefit payment arrives, others are on furlough who were just managing to get by on 100 per cent of their wages but on 80 per cent just can't cope.
"We have elderly people who have been left short in the period between applying for their government food boxes and these arriving, plus those who have found they are not covered by the scheme."
The six-strong team who have been kept busy packing and delivering food parcels came in for high praise from Bruce and Isobel.
Bruce said: "They've all been absolutely incredible, they really have.
"We had three volunteers working with us before the lockdown and another three have come on board since. Elizabeth Dinwoodie has done a fantastic job training up the new additions to the team.
"They've been doing a bit of everything, not just delivering delivering food packages. We have had to balance the need to get food out to people who couldn't leave their homes – including people who had coronavirus – with having as few people going about to cut down the possible risk of virus transmissions.
"In the future we'd like to get back to the system we had previously where people came to the hall to collect their food parcels but realistically that's along way off, I think.
"While we're not at peak level just now it's still about three times more than you'd expect.
"Our volunteers and those across the area have all stepped up and made a huge difference to a lot of people with nowhere to turn."
The local community as a whole has responded to the crisis and those hit hardest by it, Isobel stressed.
"The community have been absolutely fantastic, from local football teams and businesses donating money and food to individuals coming forward to help.
"It's been great to see.
"This has been a completely new situation for everyone to deal with and we're helping a lot of people who may have never otherwise have needed to come to a food bank for help.
"We're hugely grateful to everyone who has supported us. "
Although the food bank has occupied a large chunk of their time since March, the Smiths have also had to grapple with the profound changes wrought on their roles serving the Salvation Army community, including services being banned under lockdown regulations. It has also put paid to the many groups who usually met in the church's halls in Buckie and Findochty.
When these, like many aspects of life, will return to normality remains anyone's guess.
Bruce added: "None of us knows when this is all going to end but I certainly don't think the rise in demand for the food bank to be a short term thing.
"Whatever happens, we're here as long as people need us to be."
Food donations can be left inside the door of Buckie Salvation Hall on Tuesdays between 11am and 2.30pm. For other enquiries regarding the food bank, call Bruce and Isobel on (01542) 832189.
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