A big-hearted wholesaler has been inspired by food bank football superstar Marcus Rashford to help hard-up families across North Wales and Cheshire through Christmas and the New Year.
Harlech Foodservices, which has bases at Criccieth and Chester, loaded up its delivery vans to drop off an impressive list of over £1,000-worth of provisions at food banks at Pwllheli, Colwyn Bay and Northwich.
It included 80 bumper boxes of 96 Weetabix, enough for several thousands of breakfasts, 63 packets of Chilli Con Carne sauce, over £200 worth of bread roll mix, Hot Chocolate, and a host of other items.
The deliveries were co-ordinated by Ceri Brown, Harlech Foodservices Digital Project Manager, who said: “We have often donated to food banks but with the pandemic the need is so great and inspired by Marcus Rashford we wanted to do more.
“The effect of the recent lockdown was to leave us with plenty of stock so we have made arrangements and delivered to our local food bank at Pwllheli, the Conwy Food Bank at Colwyn Bay and the Cheshire Food Hub at Northwich.
“There they were providing 1,000 Christmas boxes but with lockdown in England that has now gone up to 10,000 and with our new depot in Chester we are hoping to help out a lot more in that area.
“We’d like to work with more food banks across our area of operation across North and Mid Wales and into Shropshire and the North West but we feel this was a good start and maintains our relationship with these three.
“But it is an ongoing project because a lot of people out there are facing really tough times and we’d like to carry on doing our bit to help them.”
Karen Cooper, Director of Banc Bwyd Pwllheli Foodbank, said: “Harlech have been supplying us for quite some time and there is a real need out there.
“One of our volunteers was doing her shopping in the town the other day and the person in front of her was crying because she couldn’t afford her shopping.
“That’s the scale of the problem and we do our best to help out and cover all the way from Aberdaron up to Porthmadog and Penygroes.
“In a year we provide about 500 food parcels and although we’re not usually busy in the summer the pandemic has meant more people than usual were unable to get work during the holiday season.
“We help all sorts of people, from young, singles who struggle to cope with their finances to large families and for them a box of 96 Weetabix is ideal and families can also make use of tubs of apple sauce with crumble mix and custard.
“Harlech are a very helpful resource for us because while we’re not as busy as a city food bank there is a real need in this rural area and we work with about 30 different referral agencies.
“They can see if someone is struggling and that’s how people are passed on to us and this is the time of year when we expect to get busier and it’s brilliant having the support of Harlech.”
Nancy Hughes, Co-ordinator of the Conwy Food Bank, one of the first set up in North Wales, said: “We cover the whole of Conwy county and this year has been very busy with Covid so we very much welcome the support from Harlech.
“Last month we provided 152 food parcels, 52 of them were for families who needed food to help feed a total of 117 children, but there were also 85 single people and 15 couples.
“We used to distribute to five drop-off points across the county but many people are vulnerable now and so we now go to many people’s homes because they’re shielding.
“Harlech approached us to see if they could help out and we were very pleased to accept – it’s been overwhelming how generous people have been.”
The Cheshire Food Hub in Northwich has just received a large delivery from Harlech Foodservices which included 96 family packs of Weetabix, packets of cook-in sauces, drinks, and other non-perishable items.
Jo Garner, of the charity Changing Lives Together, who co-ordinates the Food Hub, said: “During April we realised there was going to be a huge demand from food banks across the county.
“During the summer we were feeding about 5,000 children with food boxes, mainly in Cheshire West but we’ve now moved to a bigger long-term base in Northwich which means we can look to buy in bulk and take donations of food from many sources.
“We can then ship it out to food banks from Chester in the west to Macclesfield in the east of the county and altogether we supply over 20 food banks in the sort of quantities they can use.
“It is quite a logistical exercise and we are looking for more vehicles before for the fleet of vans we run because demand is growing at a faster rate than we had expected.
“We’re now packing the Christmas boxes and we plan to do between two and three thousand of them while pin-pointing those who are in most desperate need so we can ship them out in the week before Christmas.
“That’s where items like the Weetabix family packs donated by Harlech will be going.
“The idea of the food hub is that we take the pressure off the individual food banks who are busy enough without having to manage deliveries from various sources so instead we can co-ordinate them from here.
“But things are starting to go through the roof now with the number of referrals to food banks twice as high in November as they were in October so the plan is for us to supplement the food they already have.
“We can act as storage for them and I see myself as the facilitator making sure the supplies get out to the food banks who are on the front line.
“We can identify things that have a short shelf life and get them out as quickly as possible and if things are going to waste then we can pass them on quickly.
“At the same time we are trying to carry out a survey to find out how many people the food banks are supporting and how they have arrived there because these food banks are all run by volunteers and they are exhausted.”
Jo volunteered herself because she wanted to help out in rural areas where there is an often unseen need for food banks and she said: “Changing Lives Together is good at logistics and the food has to come in and then it’s got to go out.
“That’s especially true as next year looks as if it’s going to be catastrophic.
“It was busy in April but it’s going through the roof now.
“It’s not just about Christmas, it’s about January and beyond. It’s going to be critical because there’s a huge upsurge in the numbers of people coming into food banks.”
For more on Harlech Foodservices go to https://www.harlech.co.uk/
And for Pwllheli Food Bank go to https://www.facebook.com/Banc-Bwyd-Covid-19-Pwllheli-Food-Bank-104893417831997
For the Conwy Food Bank go to http://conwyfoodbank.co.uk/
For the Cheshire Food Hub go to https://www.facebook.com/cheshirefoodhub