Food Distribution

Working Together : The community in Derby co-ordinates free food distribution

Food Banks, and other forms of free food provision,  is a disturbing symptom of the times.

One’s political agenda will determine how one forms a  view on the reason why the demand for this service has increased significantly over the last 5 years. It is evident from  discussions with a variety of people on this,  that the increased rigidity of the welfare system, and the tightening of the rules is a major contributor. The imposition of these constraints has happened quicker than  people can change their personal circumstances to accommodate the reduction in income – if indeed that was ever possible. This is a complex subject, but there is no question that the poverty is real, and action has been necessary to help these people in need. Non-Governmental Organisations have seen the consequences of these policy changes and taken action to support people who have suffered by them.

Many organisations in Derby have been involved in  free food services for a number of years but recently, due to the increase in demand, the co-ordination and logistics have had to evolve proportionately. Although a major part of the free food provision comes from individuals in the community donating through churches, supermarkets, companies, charities etc a substantial element comes from the Fair Share charity. Fair Share is a national organization which collects and distributes large quantities of food, including fresh produce, from the food and drinks industry which ordinarily would have been dumped in a land fill site. Whilst some of the goods might be approaching their “sell by” date, there are a variety of contractual and technical reasons why packaged food cannot be sold to the public e.g. incorrect labelling, change of supplier to Aldi/Lidl, damaged pallet packaging, obsolescence after Christmas, Easter etc.  The food is perfectly edible but for economic reasons it is cheaper for the industry to give it away than go to the expense, in many cases, of re-packaging produce.

Fair Share distribute to Derby from their Leicester depot every 2 weeks. This is co-ordinated through Derby City Mission who have a long history of managing free food provision. To receive food through Fair Share, each charity has to become a member, and pays an annual fee of £800 to cover the administration, warehousing, lorries, fuel etc of the Fair Share operation. A lot of the staff involved (e.g  drivers) however are volunteers.

Every second Wednesday, a Fair Share transit van arrives at St Thomas’ Church on Pear Tree Road in Normanton ( The church is not currently in use, and the doorway is used for temporary storage for the food delivery).  John and Sylvia Gatt from Derby City Mission are there to receive the pallets and co-ordinate with the member organisations on timing, collection, paperwork, and ensuring a professional link in the supply chain. There are 8 organisations who come to collect their allocated pallet load, and transport back to their local storage for distribution.  Most are from Derby City Centre, with the most northerly one being “Jigsaw”  from the Matlock area.

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The majority of the food will be handed out based on referrals from the social services, Job Centre plus, Doctor etc . Some of the organisations will look more into the individual personal backgrounds to ensure that all cases are from the genuine needy. Derby City Mission have a Debt and Counselling officer who can help with advice and action in resolving the longer term issues that ensures that the individual can become self-supporting. At present they are working with 75 clients.

At first glance it might seem to be inefficient to have so many organisations involved in broadly the same objective. In addition to those 8 organisations who are members of FairShare, there are a further 14 in Derby who provide food parcels, or hot meals on a regular basis. A “corporate” perspective would suggest having a “single operation” that minimized cost and duplications and controlled stocks of food on a more efficient basis. Whilst this would be better in many ways, it would most likely fail on community reach, and the personal interaction, and engagement with those vulnerable people who need this service.  Despite the best intentions of the people involved there would be a real risk that a larger concern would become faceless, and uncaring, and lose the sensitivity and compassion that 22 organisations can achieve through mutual trust and their unique and valuable position within the community.

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