A charity that gives us all real food for thought

The drop-in centre at Ebeneezer Church
The drop-in centre at Ebeneezer Church
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There is something incredibly humbling about meeting people who give their time and effort to help those who really need it.

Every Saturday at Ebenezer Church in Halifax, 50 good-willed people do exactly that.

The Food and Support Drop In is run by volunteers, and has been operating since December 2008.

The increasingly important role it plays is perhaps a comment on the greater state of the nation. For by the time I left these wonderful volunteers, more than 100 people had made their way through the doors of the church to collect a food parcel.

This was a large number for the time of year.

Thanks to donations from local people, shops and charities, the Food and Support Drop In supplies free basic food parcels to the needy.

Some are homeless, others are drug users or alcoholics and all are in receipt of benefits, but they each visit the centre because they know they can get the support they need. And importantly, from people who care.

Saturday began with a flurry of activity as food and equipment was hurried into the church and set up in the main hall. In the store room, everything from bread, milk and butter to toothpaste and toilet roll was made ready to hand out.

Jennie Phillips, one of seven volunteers who make up the management committee, couldn’t wait to tell me about the haul of free food they had got the previous week from charity Fareshare. The whole thing, including masses of tinned food, milk and pasta, which would have retailed for hundreds of pounds, cost just £22.50.

“We were unloading it all from the car when someone approached us and said they would like to make a donation,” Jennie told me. “She showed me what she had in her hand and it was exactly £22.51. I was amazed, it covered exactly what we paid, plus a penny. I haven’t come down off the ceiling yet.”

On the front steps, the ‘clients’, as they’re known at the centre, began to gather, waiting for the doors to open at 10am. Many had been sitting there since as early as 7.30am.

Inside, a short meeting took place to decide which volunteer would be doing what. It was taken by manager Phil Duke, who the other volunteers tell me doesn’t tolerate any nonsense and will refuse to give food to anyone who turns up drunk.

My first job was to sit on the reception desk and help sign clients in. Each was given a name badge and a number which was used to process their parcel.

Karen, a regular front desk worker, warmly greeted them by name.

“I like to try and get the mood right from the first moment they walk in,” said Karen, who has volunteered since 2009. “You don’t always know what frame of mind people are in when they arrive but I try to send them in positive.”

Next, I tried packing a food parcel with the help of Pam, another volunteer since 2009.

“The clients can ask for different items depending on their needs at that time,” she said. “If they’ve got a family we try to give them a bit more, but the food parcels are intended to be about three meals worth.”

After proudly delivering my first parcel to its grateful recipient, I spoke to Shirley, a client of the drop-in centre for six months. She told me she visits the centre every Saturday to get food for her daughter.

“I get just over £100 per fortnight and that has to pay for everything. I come down from Elland and I think it’s brilliant.”

Alan, a recovering alcoholic from Halifax, told me he had been a regular visitor for the last four months.

“I think it’s good what they’re doing for the people of Halifax. They’ve really helped me and the food parcel really helps because my benefit money doesn’t go very far. There are quite a few familiar faces who come here and sometimes it’s good to see them.”

Warren, another client, has only been using the drop-in centre for a number of weeks. He said: “I enjoy coming here, it’s good. As much as anything, it’s about the food parcel. Most people here are on a low income and this really does help.”

As noon approached and the final few clients left the hall, volunteer Stephan told me: “I’m Halifax born and bred and I’m so chuffed to be involved in this scheme. This is a big thing in Halifax.”

With the doors closed and everything packed away, a final meeting was held to discuss how the morning went. Kate Fawcett, whose idea prompted the creation of the scheme, told the volunteers that they dealt with 109 clients during the day - a high number for this time of year, with 11 who were making their first visit.

And with that, the volunteers went their separate ways.

For those who rely on the service, everyone will be back at 10am on Saturday to do it all over again.