Natasha Copus Southend Foodbank Project Manager
Southend Foodbank first opened its doors on 1 November 2013. As the food bank prepares for its eighth anniversary, we spoke to Natasha Copus who joined as Project Manager four years ago.
The food bank has eight distribution centres and a warehouse serving the seaside community in Essex. Due to the pandemic, a couple of the sites have temporarily closed, but there is always one open from Monday to Saturday to welcome guests.
“When opened in 2013, we had one distribution centre open twice a week,” Natasha tells us. “The following year we fed 1,500 adults and 1,029 children. Last year we fed 3,546 adults and 2,885 children – an increase of over 150%.
“It is a sad state that the need has grown so much in recent years, and we’ve had to open up more places to welcome our guests and to provide them with food and support,”
The food bank now has four paid members of staff and over 150 volunteers, and on average provides 250 food parcels for 700 people every month. “The Trussell Trust’s vision for there to be no requirement for food banks in the future struck a chord with me and led me to want to work with them, along with all the excellent work they do in the community,” she explained.
“We have seen a sharp increase in demand for food parcels since the start of Covid and fear that this will only increase in coming months with the cut to the Universal Credit uplift in Autumn 2021, and also the staggering increase in fuel bills.”
“People really will be having to choose between eating and heating.”
Rental prices increasing
“Southend is seen as being in the commuter belt, being only 40 miles from central London, so with more people leaving London to move here in recent years, this has pushed up the rental prices making life even more difficult for local people.” Natasha goes on to explain.
Support from specialist volunteers
To run the service over eight sites, Natasha is supported by a wonderful team of staff as well as over 100 active volunteers, some of whom have taken on specialist volunteering roles including fundraising, transport co-ordinator, a volunteer’s co-ordinator, and an IT specialist for all those technical issues, who is also their voucher co-ordinator.
Due to the pandemic, the food bank has not been able to welcome guests into the centres to provide additional help and signposting, and Natasha hopes that they will be able to invite people into the sites once again to have a chat and cup of tea, rather than having to wait outside to just pop in quickly to collect their parcel.
“Having to queue outside a food bank is not easy for most people and not the dignified approach we would like to have in place. The Covid restrictions have been a struggle for both volunteers and guests, and hope that things will get back to normal soon.”
Looking to the future
Southend Foodbank is embracing new technology with an app called ‘Bank the Food’, which was designed by a tech company after inspiration from children at a local school. The app, which has been nominated for a global competition, alerts people to what their nearest food bank needs when they walk into a supermarket, so they can pick up the required items and drop them into the collection point in store at the end of their shop.
“Although, of course, there is still an immediate necessity for us to be here, I hope this will lessen; in the meantime, we will continue to provide care and commitment with dignity to people in need and be respectful of the trust they put in us.”