The Childs Hill Food Bank has only been open since September, but it’s already become a place of connection for the local community. “It’s been extremely popular, and very busy. It demonstrates there was definitely a need for this in our local area,” says Sarah Hoyle, a trustee of Childs Hill Food Bank. “It feels like the community needed a reason to come together.”
A helping hand in Childs Hill
The food bank isn’t about food, it’s about community.
A contribution from the 2020 Brent Cross Town Community Fund helped the organisers, who all work on a volunteer basis, set up the food bank. The funds went towards buying scales, storage and the first batch of food. Almost right away, 180 kilos of food and toiletries was donated by Childs Hill Primary School following their harvest celebration, but the need is growing: just two months in, the food bank is distributing 200 kilos of food every week.
“We have between 20 and 25 families coming every week,” says Hoyle. “Some people might come to the food bank just once, but they know we’re there. Others might come regularly and then we can help them in other ways too, because ultimately we want to encourage people to become independent – we’re not about dependency.” This means that every Saturday, there’s practical help available from the trustees: one runs a local employment centre, one is a local councillor, one is a vicar, and Hoyle also runs a community centre in Kentish Town – they have a lot of knowledge to share.
The food bank welcomes donations, accepting tins and dry goods only (there’s no refrigeration on site), plus toiletries. Hoyle explains that it’s all about the weight, “Because the material cost to the food is not important. For us, an egg from Fortnum & Mason is the same as an egg from Tesco.” Hoyle expects the food bank to become even busier in January and February. That’s when the Christmas bills are due, and because of the pandemic there’s less seasonal work this year. “We want people to reach out, because it’s much better than getting into debt,” says Hoyle, adding that people can just pop by for a chat if they’re not yet sure if this is for them. “The food bank isn’t about food, it’s about community.”
We want people to reach out, because it’s much better than getting into debt.
A pool of about 15 volunteers, from every kind of background, are the lifeblood of the food bank. “They have been amazing. They are probably the best volunteers I’ve ever worked with,” says Hoyle, who’s also found that the volunteers benefit as much as the clients from the food bank. “We’ve had people volunteering who were quite shy at first, preferring to pack food in the back and didn’t really want to speak to people. But we have seen them become more and more confident, and now they’re talking to people. It’s so lovely.”
The food bank is open to anyone living in NW2 (Cricklewood) and NW11 (Golders Green). Hoyle describes the area as a “collection of villages” with their own identities. “As a whole, the area has high deprivations, but there are also some fairly wealthy streets. It creates this lovely mix of people who want to help, and people who need help.” Some of the volunteers are also users of the food bank, handing out food one week and collecting it the next. “We really want to demystify asking for help,” says Hoyle, stressing that anyone can find themselves in a position of needing a little help. “It’s okay for anyone to come. We’re really friendly!”