Making a Difference: Banking On It – a food bank volunteer’s story

Banking On It

These days, food banks are in the news on an almost daily basis, and are set to become even more prominent as grocery prices continue to rise. When they do, food bank volunteer, Jocelyn Le Petit, can only hope more volunteers step forward from the community to help out.

Jocelyn’s volunteer experience has taken her into the ‘packing room’ of the All Saints’ Anglican Church in Dunedin. The church, along with similar ventures in other parts of the country, runs a budget produce centre through which individuals, couples, and families in need of low-cost produce can place orders online. Although many food banks require formal referrals from social services before they can be accessed, All Saints’ asks no questions, and there is no need to provide evidence of hardship in order to place orders with the service.

The produce is ordered once a week from a wholesale market, and is then conveyed to the church’s packing centre. It arrives at about 7am, which means volunteers must be keen for an early start as they need to be on deck to unload everything.

The produce is placed, according to variety, on trestle tables. Larger vegetables, such as pumpkin and cabbage, are divided up. Jocelyn, who has experience as a chef, is ideally suited to help out with this task, but she is quick to point out food banks welcome volunteers regardless of experience. In fact, she says, there are never enough helpers.

Volunteers circulate among the tables, assembling everything according to the online orders, and pack it into individual containers. These are loaded into vehicles to be taken to one of several pick-up centres dotted around the city (other churches make their premises available as distribution centres). In this way, ‘customers’ who may not have their own vehicles, or who find the cost of public transport prohibitive, are still able to access the service.

By working in this way Jocelyn says All Saints’ Fruit and Veges does away with the ‘middleman’, which means healthy produce reaches recipients at a very affordable price. What’s more, because orders are placed in advance, there is almost no food waste. If there is an unexpected excess, volunteers can usually find a use for it.

Jocelyn says it is a pleasure to be able to give back to the community in this way, and what’s more, there is the additional bonus of a social side to the activity of helping out. At the conclusion of the morning’s work (which usually takes about 2 hours), volunteers gather for a companionable cup of coffee, with the church’s vicar often stopping by to join in. What’s more, all volunteers are on an equal footing – there is no hierarchy – something which makes the companionship even more pleasurable

Although Jocelyn is currently taking a break from her volunteer role due to work commitments, she certainly has plans to return to All Saints’ once her circumstances change. In the meantime, she encourages everyone to think about food bank volunteering, and suggests they look for positions in their own community by going to the online site ‘Seek Volunteer’. Alternatively, it can pay to check on community noticeboards or in local newspapers. However you do it, your food bank volunteering is bound to be appreciated.