Lawther Building is familiar to me because I used to work in it during my stint in Social Services. For years the walls of this building heard allegations from frightened children who had been abused in homes across North and West Belfast. The old offices are now ripped out and in its place is a social service of another kind.
West Belfast Foodbank is one of twenty-three food banks province wide and affiliated to Fareshare and the Trussell Trust. They are a Not for Profit organisation and fully reliant on donations from the public, businesses, schools and supermarkets.
Ulster Banks are collecting food for the two foodbanks in West Belfast as well as their distribution centre in Madras Street, this project is truly cross community servicing the needs of both communities.
The idea came about during a fellowship meeting of the Falls Community Fellowship (An outreach of New Life City Church) in the upstairs room of the Cyprus Street (stickie) club. It was men with addictions that recognised the need to set up this much needed service. Pastor Tony Meehan who I had the pleasure of finally meeting is the coordinator behind it all. Tony is a Falls Road native with a remarkable life story – one that will be featured on Humans of West Belfast.
Tony and Briege, one of the volunteers showed me around. In one room there’s a huge pantry sorted by food type and sell by date. Anything that looks like it’s ready to go bad is brought to The Welcome Centre and used that day.
Tony tells me he started off with three shelves and now has three tonnes of food ready to go to people in need. He emphasised the need to keep replenishing stock as they can feed up to thirteen people and families per day. They then fill a van with food parcels to bring to people living in hostels and refuges.
They are in talks with Sainsburys, West Belfast and partner with Tescos in Yorkgate for fresh produce. Retail supermarkets dispose of tonnes of food every day. They want community groups working with vulnerable families and individuals to be able to avail of this food directly as well as the services of the West Belfast Foodbank.
It’s not only processed food that is needed. Tony and Briege would like to see more snacks and chocolate biscuits to put into the hampers. They are in need of packets of nappies, small packs of toilet rolls and toiletries. Things we take for granted but are usually luxuries to people in financial distress.
The food bank exists as a community response to combatting poverty. The volunteers don’t want people to be reliant on them. Tony said doesn’t care who or what people are, if they are at crisis point then they will receive assistance. Asked about the type of circumstances, he said people who are experiencing benefits issues are often in severe need because they simply do not have any money to buy food.
Volunteering are two guys from the Rosemount Homeless Shelter. Both are recovering alcoholics and never stop working, Tony says. As I walked around I observed one assisting a woman donor with bags of clothes. The Foodbank is also able to facilitate young offenders in their community service orders.
The whole centre is a testament to social decay. It’s owned by SCA who have generously partnered with West Belfast Projects, a local charity, and Falls Community fellowship to establish the West Belfast Foodbank and the plans for its transformation are quite impressive.
The Belfast Homeless Outreach Team use the upstairs rooms to sort and store donations before hitting the streets of Belfast.
If you or your family are struggling to get by and feel that a referral would be helpful, you can talk to a community worker or advice worker in any of these places:
- Barnardos, Whiterock – 02890 320408
- Clan Mor Surestart, Albert St – 02890 327755
- Falls Women’s Centre – 02890 327672
- Family Support Hub Shankill – 02890 311455
- Family Support Hub Springfield & Whiterock – 02890 438438
- New Life City Church & Falls Community Fellowship – 02890 239572
- SCA Advice Centre Falls Road – 02890 248509
- SVDP Turf Lodge – 02890 601899
- Shankill Women’s Centre – 02890 240642
The West Belfast Foodbank is open for referred families & individuals on
- Tuesdays 12 – 2pm
- Thursday evenings 7 – 9pm
- Madras Street opens on Saturday morning from 10.30am – 12.30pm