The University of Bristol supports all its staff to take one day of volunteering leave per year to help make a positive impact in the local community. This December the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) brought together teams of staff from across the University to volunteer at a local food bank in the run up to Christmas, helping out a good cause and having a really rewarding, enjoyable day with colleagues in the process.
The BPI team are acutely aware of how many people now unfortunately have to rely on food banks, particularly with recent changes to Universal Credit, the impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods, and rising fuel prices, and we therefore felt that this was a good opportunity to help make a contribution. The food bank also offered flexibility in terms of timings (for example, if someone needed to leave early due to caring responsibilities), as well as disabled parking, access and toilet facilities, therefore making it an accessible and inclusive option for us.
We wanted these volunteering days to also be an opportunity for members of the BPI community to get to know one another, and to mix with colleagues who have a shared ethos but whose paths may not ordinarily cross. We were delighted to bring together 17 volunteers representing academia, Research and Enterprise Division (RED), the University Research Institutes (URIs), and Policy Press across three volunteering days in December, although unfortunately one date was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
The volunteering days themselves were fantastic; the staff at the food bank were so welcoming, friendly, and helpful, and the work was really rewarding. Our primary task was to sort through mountains of donations, writing expiry dates on everything so the warehouse team could distribute them in date order to minimise waste. We were also tasked with pulling out and sorting all the Christmas goodies (including more custard than you could ever imagine!) ready for handing out in the coming days and weeks to make the festive season a little brighter. It was wonderful to see how much people had given, but at the same time humbling to see how much was needed and to be reminded of how much we take for granted. The fact we were only there for a day meant we could only make a small contribution to such a mammoth endeavour, but everyone involved found it so rewarding to see the stacks of crates being wheeled into the warehouse at the end of the day as a result of our hard work.
We’re really looking forward to going back, hopefully this time next year, and all came away with a renewed drive to be more mindful about popping something in the food bank donation boxes every time we go to the supermarket or making a monetary donation when we can, as well as contributing to knowledge and trying to influence policy that may help to reduce the need for food banks in the future. Most supermarkets have donation boxes near the checkout, and many of them include a list of recommended/requested items. You can also find lists on food bank websites of the types of items they most frequently need (see the Trussell Trust website, for example), with lists of non-food items such as sanitary products, nappies, laundry detergent and toiletries alongside regular food items including:
- Tinned tomatoes
- Pasta sauce
- Lentils, beans and pulses
- Tinned meat
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned fruit
- UHT milk
- Fruit juice
This was the second time the BPI have organised volunteering days. In 2019 a team of academics and professional services staff came together for a great day working at the Hartcliffe Community Farm in South Bristol association with the Matthew Tree Project, which provides support for people on the verge of homelessness and crisis. This includes both opportunities for members of the community to learn about growing food and to benefit from the fruits (and vegetables!) of their labour, quite literally. It was a really enjoyable, but tiring, day, with activities including digging out rubble to clear new spaces for vegetable beds, planting out new seedlings, and laying a bark chip path to help people to move around the site and access different parts of the farm more easily. Check out our news story for more details.
We hope to be able to run more volunteering days in 2022, subject to restrictions. We are hoping to do one outdoors activity in the summertime, and another food bank activity in the lead up to Christmas. If you want to be kept in the loop of plans and activities, please sign up to the BPI mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.