Food Distribution

Food banks – should be about People not PR!

6X4A9011Derby has over 22 organisations supplying food and/or hot meals to the vulnerable in the City. These are operated through a variety of faith based, ethnic minority and refugee support groups. Each of these has a unique and valuable way of engaging with their target population at an individual level, and each will have to vie for their portion of the limited supply of donated food in the area.

There are essentially 3 routes to obtaining food:

• Fareshare – this is a national organization that collects surplus food from the supermarket network and distributes throughout the UK. At an annual subscription of £800 this provides a transit van full of food each week into Derby for onward use by those groups that subscribe to it. At present there is approximately 8 that use this method in Derby. This is co-ordinated by Derby City Mission (DCM) who have a long history of managing food distribution in Derby.

• Costco – The British Red Cross in Derby collect surplus product from the local Costco store and distribute to groups – these tend to be smaller concerns.

• Public donations – this is a wider variety of routes, and generates the largest volume of food.

Whilst there is a Food Forum that meets quarterly, the linkages between the 22 Food Banks is very loose and informal. Given that all food is donated, there is an implied collective, mutual responsibility to ensure that all of the Food banks have an equal opportunity to participate in the available supply – especially that supplied by the Public.

The demand for food is unrelenting and there are many people throughout Derby who are part of the daily supply network, making sure that those, in need, get food parcels, when they need them. Food donations, or collection events, are of limited value unless they are routine – and are seen to be so by the public. There should be no suggestion that one event, on one day, solves the problem.

It is because of this and other issues that I felt very uneasy about the so-called “Love Derby Day” at Derby County Football Club on 21st April. On the surface it seemed like a very benevolent activity. However, what Derby needs is initiatives that are serious about food supply not ones that are using a single event as a promotional vehicle.

“Love Derby Day” was fronted by Graham Pyman who is the Lead Elder of the Jubilee Church ( not a Food Bank recognized on the Derby City Council / British Red Cross list). It was promoted as a collaboration between his Church, Derby City Mission (DCM) and the Food Store Network (FSN) in Darlington. The FSN was formed in September 2013 by Kelvin Marsh who is also the Food Store Manager at the King’s Church Food Bank in Darlington. The King’s Church is part of the Christ Central Churches group. Mr Pyman is a Director of both DCM, and Christ Central Churches Worldwide Limited. Steve McClaren ( Manager at Derby County) has associations with the King’s Church in Darlington.

I queried with Mr Pyman why FSN from Darlington was involved. He told me that it was to use their expertise on the day, collecting food. It was not clear why collecting food from members of the public and putting them into boxes required the support of a new organization from Darlington. The Press Release quoted in the Derby Telegraph stated that the FSN would distribute the food to the City – this was not the case. This was all done by DCM. In fact, key people at DCM have never heard of FSN. Mr Marsh of FSN told me on April 22 that “We are not involved in its distribution at all…”

Pyman is also quoted in the article as saying “ There are 5 food banks in Derby…..”. I asked Mr Pyman why this City-wide collection was ignoring the other 18 Food Banks. His response was “Happy to look at others too – feel free to Direct Message me a list”. It is unclear how this event could have been arranged without fully researching the Food Banks in the City and so ensuring that there was a fair spread across all target need groups. The 5 that were supported were : Jubilee Church, DCM, Community Church, Hope Centre ( part of Derby City Church), and St Alkmunds Church.

Originally the plan was that 10% of the food would be distributed outside of the City – this was confirmed by Kelvin Marsh on the 21st April despite the press report stating that it would all stay within Derby. Graham Pyman has since stated to me that they changed their mind and it was all retained in Derby – it’s not clear why there needed to be an ambiguity.
I asked Mr Marsh of FSN on April 23 if he intended to have any other involvement in Derby. “Indeed we are hoping to repeat this again and also hoping to do more to assist those in Derby…. We also have 2 other initiatives of which more will be revealed in the coming weeks.” As of June 6 he has not responded to my request for an update. When I asked Graham Pyman he was non-committal about any further involvement.

The food that was collected was equivalent to about 2 weeks supply.

I suggested to Mr Pyman that by implying to the Derby County supporters that the food would be distributed all over the City might result in a negative impact on the excluded groups. This was on the basis that people would have limited charity. He did not concur with my assumption that generally people would have a finite capacity for giving to charity.

There was no need for the PR stunt of “LoveDerbyDay”, or the involvement of Jubilee Church, or FSN – none of whom had expertise that was missing from Derby City Mission or from within the local Food Bank population who, no doubt, would have offered assistance on the day, if invited.

As a Director of DCM, and friend of Steve McLaren, the opportunity existed, had he been focused on the Food bank issue and not his own PR, to promote an improved integration of the food bank network in the City. A longer term routine relationship with Derby County could have led to a valuable, and sustainable supply source which would have been very helpful to the vulnerable and needy in Derby. This seems like a missed opportunity.

Postscript: As the demand for emergency food grows, and the number of organisations distributing it expands, the City needs a more strategic approach to this subject which ensures fair and transparent distribution across the community. At present, there is no clear focal point for this in Derby.

Categories: Food Distribution

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