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Continuing our new Diocesan series for the website called, “Parish Unsung Heroes,” based on people who do things which demonstrate all the good things our faith stands for and live the Gospel in action. The rest of their Parish may not even know about it.
We hope you enjoy reading their own accounts as to why they belong to their chosen group and hope that it may encourage others to join them. So, we are delighted to introduce our second Parish Unsung hero, Jenny LeLean from the Andover Foodbank, who have recently been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
What is your Parish?
St John the Baptist RC Church Andover
What organisation do you support?
Where is it based?
The foodbank is situated in a converted garage at the parish of St John the Baptist. It was started in 2006 after one parishioner, Patrick Lavelle, met a mum in Andover who was crying because she didn’t have enough money to buy food to feed her children. Patrick had heard about a new foodbank in Salisbury (The original Trussell Trust foodbank) who were helping local people and went to find out more. With support from the parish and Fr Des Connolly SMM, the Andover foodbank was started. It provided food for almost 400 people in its first year, last year saw more than 6500 assisted. We are one of the oldest foodbanks in the Trussell Trust network and have seen some significant changes in need, understanding and support in the last 16 years.
What do they do?
The foodbank provides food and other essentials for people in the community who are struggling. the food is packaged into three days supply and given alongside vouchers for the local market enabling clients to access fresh produce, bread, cheese and bacon. We also provide toiletries, cleaning and laundry products, baby items including milk and nappies as well as bedding and kitchen items for people moving in or out of supported accommodation or being rehoused in an emergency. We run several seasonal projects too including festive hampers and children’s gift boxes at Christmas, chocolate eggs at Easter and additional food bags and activities to help families during the summer holidays when children can be at risk of social isolation and loneliness. We rely almost completely on the generosity of our community, and they have been incredible in their support over the years. We cover the area of Northwest Hampshire including the towns of Andover, Stockbridge, Whitchurch and Overton. We go up to the Berkshire border and even stray into Wiltshire, serving the town of Ludgershall.
As with many foodbanks we work via a referral system as our goal is to ensure people can become more financially secure, although for many in unstable or low paid work or with longer term health conditions this is becoming more challenging. The current cost of living crisis is going to have the biggest impact on those least able to manage it.
Why did you choose to join them?
The bible and our Catholic teaching make the responsibility we have to those in need clear. We are instructed to love our neighbour and that can start by making sure our neighbour isn’t hungry. The foodbank provided me with an opportunity to fulfil that responsibility through giving my time and energy. I also value the opportunity to demonstrate the mission of the church to the wider community.
How long have you been involved with the organisation?
I started in around 2007/8 as a volunteer who helped at the supermarket collections, distributing shopping lists as customers entered the shop and receiving donations as they left.
What is your role?
I am currently the manager of the foodbank, so I cover everything from serving clients, packing boxes, raising funds, building relationships to developing new projects and longer-term strategies. I am supported by Becki who looks after the warehouse and surrounded by the most amazing team of volunteers.
Do you need any specialist skills or training?
I have learnt a lot in the last eleven years, some with training e.g., charity law, finance/fundraising and environmental health as we must operate within the law and some skills that have been self-taught as required. I have also learnt a lot about the impact of poverty on people’s lives.
The most important quality for people joining us is compassion. To listen, to learn and to really care. Most people do not want to have to go to a foodbank and how they are welcomed and supported can make a huge difference to that necessity.
How often do you do this?
The foodbank is open every weekday morning and I am there most days.
What do you enjoy about doing this?
About my specific role I enjoy the variety of activity, no two days are ever the same and it is satisfying to see the positive impact we have on people’s lives. Most of all I enjoy the people. We have over 60 volunteers who give their time to collect, sort, pack, deliver, log vouchers, sort data, count Easter eggs, chat to clients, agencies, and donors – we are often laughing, occasionally crying and are hugely supportive of each other. Volunteers don’t just come from our parish church but are drawn from other churches and across the community and many long-term friendships have formed. We have our donors too, so many who faithfully give every week or month, or organize collections at schools or work. We even have some that climb mountains for us – quite literally! People want to help their neighbours, the difficulty today can be is knowing who those neighbours are. The foodbank is a way for people to achieve that.
If you had one wish to help this organisation, what would it be?
Our goal is that we are not needed, and our request would be for your prayers, for our clients and all those who are struggling financially, for our volunteers, partners, and donors and finally for everyone who has influence and power to create change.
How can others join or help your organisation (please include contact details and website if they have one)?
Information about Andover foodbank can be found on our website www.andover.foodbank.org.uk or you can email on firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call 01264 362111 between 9:30-12:30 Monday to Friday. You can also follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter (all details on our website). If you have an interest in supporting the national campaigns to Stop UK Hunger, contact the Trussell Trust via their website www.trusselltrust.org
We congratulate Jenny and her team on their award and on her work and wish her continued success. If you know someone in your parish who is a Parish Unsung hero, like Jenny, living the Gospel in action, please contact email@example.com
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