What's it like working in an Edinburgh foodbank over Christmas?

CHRISTMAS time is a busy and stressful time for all of us, as we juggle the challenge of working throughout December while figuring out how to fit in essential gift shopping and organising get-togethers with friends and family.
Workers describe what it's like working in an Edinburgh Foodbank over Christmas. Picture: TSPLWorkers describe what it's like working in an Edinburgh Foodbank over Christmas. Picture: TSPL
Workers describe what it's like working in an Edinburgh Foodbank over Christmas. Picture: TSPL

But have you ever considered what it’s like during December at your local foodbank?

At Edinburgh North West Foodbank, user levels swell dramatically during the festive season.

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Working on the frontline is operations manager Bethany Monaghan, who admits that Christmas is a sad but “humbling” time for employees.

A ‘sombre’ time of year

Monaghan has been employed by the North West Foodbank for 19 months, leaving her previous job after performing volunteer work with the organisation.

Speaking two weeks head of Christmas, she concedes that the mood among staff is “sombre”.

“It’s a sad time of year. We see the numbers go up, so the volunteers are seeing that in the centre.

“They’re facing people who they know can’t afford the joys associated with Christmas

“It’s a very heartfelt time of year - you really feel for people when everyone is celebrating and you know those people aren’t going to be doing the same.”

The rise in stress among users is palpable, according to Monaghan - as is their warmth.

“Christmas comes with such high expectations and high pressures, you see it in people.

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“You see it in the parents’ faces that at this time of year they’re grateful whether it’s mince pies or presents for the kids.

“They’ve been worrying about having to explain to the wee one that they can’t have an advent calendar.

“You can see that utter gratitude when we can give the extras - not just the standard food on the table, but the festive stuff as well.”

Four times the amount of donations in December

Despite the hardship which employees of the North West Foodbank face, there are also extraordinary acts of generosity on show.

Monaghan reveals that the team are always taken aback by the levels of kindness around the festive period.

“Christmas is crazy with the number of donations that come in.

“We get four times the amount of donations that we get in a normal month in December - the warehouse is like Santa’s grotto!

“We’ve had a tough year with how busy we’ve been so there was a lot of pressure on December coming through for us this year - and it has, donations have been coming through wonderfully.”

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While the foodbank staff are grateful for any donations, the Operations Manager reveals that it’s often the smaller ones that blow her away.

“There’s been some big ones - they tend to come from offices.

“But one that pulled my heart strings was a woman who came in with her two boys. It was just a carrier bag full, it wasn’t anything huge, but she bought a plant, the little red and green plant you get around Christmas and she just said ‘I thought someone should have a plant’.

“I must admit it’s the first plant we’ve had donated, but it was the thought, it was the extra, it was beyond the obvious, those are the donations where you stop and think ‘your heart and soul went into that’ - it might not be huge, but every item was bought with thought and care.

“So unexpected, but so lovely.”

She admits to being “humbled” by her job.

“It’s a very humbling job when people bring in the donations - it’s heartwarming to think there’s so many caring people.

“It’s a job that shows the good and the bad, but it definitely shows the good more.”

Demand is higher than ever

The sudden influx of donations to the organisation has been welcome.

The foodbank has been busier in 2017 by 32% than the previous year, and on top of that Christmas tends to be 50% busier than in other months.

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If the bank is 50% busier this Christmas the number of users will exceed 1,000 - up 200 on last year.

Monaghan admits that she fears the number of users will continue to rise.

“We’re preparing to get busier, people are feeling it, there’s changes in the benefit system, there’s inflation, there’s zero-hours contracts.

“From what you can see in the papers and from what you know is going on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the increase matches this year again.”

With increasing economic demands on struggling families, demands for generosity from the foodbank are higher than ever.

Despite having a strong start to December, Monaghan reveals that the organisation is running short on tinned fruits, tinned cold meats and tinned spaghetti.

As well as donations, Monaghan declares that new volunteers will always be welcome at the Edinburgh North West Foodbank.

“We’re always looking for more, I don’t think I’ll ever say ‘I’m full’!

“The volunteers are the life and blood of what we do.“

Find out more about the Edinburgh North West Foodbank at edinburghnw.foodbank.org.uk

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