In a previous post, I mentioned how large the distribution centre at the Trussell Trust’s head office is, and how the volume of food stored there means everything has to be carefully sorted according to expiry date. As one of the other volunteers told me, having been involved in logistics for the military, working in the distribution centre is right up his street. While the logistics behind the centre are probably not quite the same complexity as a military operation, it’s quickly become obvious to me that the system does need to be continually managed to enable it to function smoothly. It’s a good thing the Trussell Trust has no shortage of volunteers!
The first stage of the distribution centre is dealing with the donated food. To keep track of exactly how much food is coming in, all donations get weighed and this information is recorded with details of where the donations have come from. Often the regular donations come from local churches or community groups. The carrier bags of food need to be sorted according to product and date. The front section of the warehouse (below) is where this happens.
As you can see, there’s a lovely big table which gives us lots of space for sorting and unpacking. The boxes around the walls on this side of the warehouse are where food that needs to be used first is stored. The labelled boxes are more or less arranged in the same order as the packing list for the food parcels, which makes things much easier, as you simply have to follow the boxes around the room. You start with cereal in the back corner and make your way round to treats/chocolate at the end.
What you can see in the picture above, however, isn’t all the food stored in the distribution centre. On the other side of the warehouse, food with longer expiry dates are held until they’re needed.
The amount of food itself is quite mind boggling; it’s basically the equivalent of a small supermarket. But what’s truly astonishing is when you start thinking about how every single item given to the Trussell Trust and other food banks is donated. Free. To complete strangers. It’s great to know that so many people think about helping others on a regular basis. And anyone who has ever bought a few extra tins for a food bank with their weekly shop will know how much more satisfying it is to contribute in this way than simply dropping some loose change into a collection box. The feeling that you’re helping somebody is more tangible and personal; you know somebody in your local community will eat the very same soup you’ve donated.
Of course, the sad part of all of this generosity is that people need to donate to food banks in the first place, and those who rely on food parcels are growing in numbers. Food banks are only ever intended as a stop gap. So what fundamental societal changes are necessary to get to the point where an organisation like the Trussell Trust is shrinking rather than expanding?