Food Larder helps thousands - and will continue after pandemic

Food bank volunteer

Tony Watkins at the help desk - Credit: Submitted

From one man’s vision a project has grown which has touched thousands of lives in Torquay.

In 2016 the local Salvation Army’s Captain, Andy Toby, had the idea of setting up a food bank in the town.

Through his ministry he was aware of the high level of deprivation and food poverty. He wanted to do something to help by making food available from a convenient town centre base.

When he took his plan to Christians Together in Torquay, an organisation which brings together representatives from different churches across the town, they were excited and Torquay Community Larder was born.

It opened its doors in September 2016 at the Salvation Army Citadel in Market Street. They have never shut since and as the economic effects of the pandemic become felt it is likely the need will only increase.

Food bank volunteer

A volunteer sorts out donations - Credit: Submitted

Over the past five years the project has gone from strength to strength. From 2018 onwards it has provided 5,332 parcels which accounts for 73,728 meals.

The motto for the Larder is: ”By the community, for the community.”

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Run jointly by the Salvation Army and Christians Together, the project employs no paid staff, but is run by 60 volunteers. Many are Christians from different churches across the area but people of any faith or none are welcome to help.

Thanks to the generosity of the Salvation Army, which has allowed the larder to use its buildings there have been minimal overheads.

Project Manager Tony Watkins has been involved in the project from the start. As well as running the Larder Tony takes a lead role in the Torbay Winter Night Shelters project which provides a bed and a meal to homeless people in different churches around the town during the winter months.

He says: “Many of the volunteers who signed up to help at the Larder had worked together before in the ToWNS project. The Larder has a great atmosphere and volunteers tell us that they find it rewarding to feel they are making a real difference.”

The Larder opens on Monday and Friday mornings. People who need to use the service are referred by different agencies.

Mr Watkins says: “We realise it is often not easy for people to come to a food bank for the first time. We want them to feel welcome and we make sure they are treated with respect. Reflecting this ethos, we call them guests, not clients.”

The project has been such a success that Paignton Community Larder was modelled on it. The foundations of the Larder were so strong that it has weathered the pandemic well.

It has worked in partnership with the Food Alliance which brings different organisations together to provide food for people.

Food bank stores

The larder stores - Credit: Submitted

The Salvation Army building has been the hub for the Torquay branch of the Torbay Food Alliance and is where the food was stored and distributed across the food outlets in Torquay. Mr Watkins says: ”The Larder had to adapt to become Covid secure. Many of our volunteers are retired people and they had to shield, but enough continued to make sure that we could deliver the service in a safe way.”

There are great hopes for the future. TCL wants to provide not just a hand-out but a hand-up. It intends to help its guests deal with the problems which have led to them needing a food bank.

They hope to be able to provide advice on issues including debt, housing and benefits.

TCL relies on donations from local churches, individuals and collections in supermarkets. Mr Watkins says: “We always need more donations of food or money and we are also keen to recruit new volunteers as things begin to return to normal after the pandemic. Unfortunately, as the economic effects of the crisis are felt, I think we will be busier than ever."

For information on donating or volunteering contact Sue Kenway - skmail101@icloud.com or 01803 215107.