Inverness church steps up food distribution during lockdown

Inverness Foodstuff at Ness Bank Church, which provides meals to those who are homeless, vulnerable or financially disadvantaged, has seen a ‘sharp increase' in demand since the start of lockdown – with over 8,247 meals served at last count.

The kitchen team at Inverness Foodstuff
The kitchen team at Inverness Foodstuff prepare meals for those in need.

Set up in March 2015 as a drop-in café in the hall at Ness Bank Church, the service has been quick to respond to its latest challenge in setting up delivery and collection for those in need.

The front of house team at Inverness Foodstuff
The front of house team at Inverness Foodstuff

Rev Fiona Smith, the minister at Ness Bank Church and chair of Inverness Foodstuff, credits partnership and acceptance as being at the heart of their work.

"Although the pandemic has meant we have had to adapt and change the delivery of our service, the heart of Inverness Foodstuff remains the same: we accept one another, whoever we are, wherever we come from. We see the person not the label," Fiona said.

"There is no ‘them and us', only us – church and community working together to challenge and transform lives for the better - and this includes my own life."

Since their café closure on 14 March, two staff – including one newly employed - and a dedicated team of volunteers have enabled the service to evolve and continue in a vastly different environment.

Inverness Foodstuff initially responded with food distribution on three days, but this has since grown to providing food six days a week – including a delivery option for those unable to leave their homes.

‘A sharp increase in a different kind of need'

"What we are now seeing is a sharp increase in a different kind of need, such as those who have lost their jobs or those who are new benefit claimants as well as those who are struggling financially due to an increase in utility bills as a result of being at home more. This includes families with children," June MacLeod, who works as operations manager for Inverness Foodstuff, said.

Meals on wheels
Meals on wheels

To aid the process, Inverness Foodstuff has set up a dedicated phone line where those who are experiencing financial vulnerability due to the pandemic can access a hot meal.

The phone line is available between Monday to Friday from 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm.

"Our trained volunteer call handlers will ask a series of questions to allow us to understand the caller's situation and make sure we provide the best service possible," June said.

"Should the caller qualify, they are given a dedicated time to collect their food, or if they are unable to leave the house because they are shielding, for example, a delivery will be arranged.

"Should we not be the most appropriate service for them, we can signpost them to the local council for other suitable options for help and support."

Rev Fiona Smith is grateful to her "amazing team of volunteers" who help keep the service going.

"The team has risen to this challenge wonderfully and without them we simply could not do what we do," she said.

Some of the meals on offer at Inverness Foodstuff
Just some of the tasty hot meals on offer at Inverness Foodstuff

"Ness Bank Church's kitchen and hall are so spacious that we have been able to be fully compliant with the new rules to ensure the safety of everyone.

"It is a military operation running this and, amazingly, the food being served is still so brilliant.

"We are also indebted to the support we receive from local supermarkets through our partnership with Fairshare and Neighbourly, as well as with local retailers, like Swansons.

"We are also so thankful for the grants we have received during this time from, amongst others, Highlands and islands Enterprise, Crisis, the National Lottery, five local Ward discretionary funds, and individual donors."

The Church of Scotland's Go For It Fund is another of the funding bodies who have enabled Inverness Foodstuff to continue with their work. The project received a Main Grant in the final round of Go For It funding

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