Food bank Liz: 'Sometimes people need a hug, or a shoulder to cry on'

Liz Bird has run Bridgnorth Food Bank since 2013. The job brings her into contact with many people from different walks of life who need various kinds of support, not least help in putting food on the table for themselves and loved ones.

Liz Bird at Bridgnorth Food Bank, which operates out of the Baptist Church
Liz Bird at Bridgnorth Food Bank, which operates out of the Baptist Church

In March 2020, as everyone knows, the world changed forever.

Liz said: “We were aware of something happening because of the media, but we didn’t realise how much this would effect us all.”

But when it did – namely lockdown in March 2020 – all but seven of the volunteers had to finish. Some 25 of them went into isolation as they were classed as vulnerable.

Liz said: “We lost 25-plus valued volunteers, so we had to quickly work out how we were going to function in the next few weeks, which turned out to be months, then years.

“We needn’t have worried as new people came to offer their time, not only at the food bank, but also drivers to deliver food parcels to those clients having to self-isolate, vulnerable or ill. We breathed a sigh of relief! The new volunteers ranged from a solicitor who brought in a new way of thinking, a doctor and her husband who worked round their shifts delivering, and two students who couldn’t go back to uni, to name but a few who were willing to give time, cars and themselves for what needed doing.”

Liz Bird at Bridgnorth Food Bank

The first few weeks had the food bank treated by supermarkets as a single person, which made buying enough to keep the food bank stocked even more difficult. At the time, supermarkets up and down the country were struggling to meet demand and, as the supply chain laboured to keep up, purchases were limited.

“We try to get help for our clients, whatever they need," said Liz.

"We have a support worker who comes in every Monday to talk to clients. I don’t know how she or her colleagues do their job as they are inundated with those needing help. Christians Against Poverty Debt Help, Citizens Advice Shropshire, our Chaplain plus other agencies can direct clients to get the help they need. They are all amazing.

“When we went into lockdown and people couldn’t go out shopping for themselves, those that usually donated by buying items gave us the money instead to go and do the shopping. The generosity of those that live in Bridgnorth and the villages around has never ceased to amaze myself, the committee and the volunteers.”

Despite the sea change in the volunteer staff at the food bank, they carried on regardless. New systems were adopted as per government guidelines. Clients were given no more than 15 minutes to come in, wear masks, wash hands, get registered if necessary and leave with their food parcels, plus any fresh food that had been collected from supermarkets.

However, the difficulty of running a food bank – which for those first weeks at least, struggled like everyone else with the dearth of stock and the ‘new normal’ and the fear, some of it justified, some of it less so – wasn’t the end of the story for Liz.

Liz was effectively fighting on two fronts. The food bank needed her attention, but at home her husband needed it too. Having been ill for many years he began having seizures in March of 2020. Liz is his full-time carer, and as much as the food supply chain became beleaguered in 2020, health services were all-but crippled as they effectively went on a war footing.

Liz added: “It was a real fight, to get help for him. It was upsetting, stressful and annoying how long everything took to get any medical treatment and results. Having consults over the phone is no good as he has to look at someone.”

So, in the midst of a pandemic and with her caring to do, where was the space for Liz in all of this?

She said: “There isn’t a lot of space for me, but most full-time carers will say that. I must say that, if it hadn’t have been for my kids, my friends and my faith, I probably would have been in a real mess.”

Time wore on and, as Liz says, the food bank just carried on as normal. However, one story in particular is a stark reminder of why the food bank is there.

Liz explained: “This man came in, maybe in his 40s and we got him registered and filled out all the paperwork, we got him the food he wanted and needed and he was very grateful.

“At the end though he just asked me ‘I don’t suppose I could hug you, could I?’

“I maybe shouldn’t have, but I gave him a hug. I felt very sad for him that he was in the situation he was in.

“I think that’s all he needed. Sometimes people need a hug, or a shoulder to cry on.”

After two years of the pandemic, Liz adds: “It has brought out the very best in a lot of people.”

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