“It’s like this one lady who came in a couple of weeks ago,” says Darren Gilbert, founder of the recently opened Knebworth Foodbank.
“She walked past six or seven times, but couldn’t bring herself to come in. One of our volunteers went out and said, ‘Are you okay?’ He brought her in and walked round with her and she was so happy.
“As she was taking the food back to the car, she broke down in tears, saying, ‘I couldn’t be anywhere this week without this. I was so ashamed of coming in’.”
Darren looks grim as he recounts this story. He didn’t know when he decided to set up the food bank a couple of months ago if there really was a need in his local village of Knebworth, Hertfordshire.
No questions, No judgement
“You don’t want to see food needed like that really, but a premises came up and I thought, okay, let’s see if it’s used. Every week we grow. Week on week families are telling other families and in they come.”
“The best part about our foodbank is there’s no questions asked, no judgement, no referrals. We generally ask that you live in Knebworth and the surrounding catchment areas. If you’re from Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City please use those food banks instead.”
Surprisingly the sensation of shame associated with food banks isn’t just limited to those people who need to use them.
“It’s one of those stigmas I suppose,” says Darren, “I’ve had people coming up to me in Knebworth to say, ‘why are you opening a foodbank? It’s so detrimental to the area.’ Sadly that’s really quite a naïve opinion.”
Tsunami of need
As the Trussell Trust recently highlighted, the ‘tsunami of need’ created by the cost of living crisis continues apace, with food bank usage up a third. Challenges to the supply chain and the rising cost of basic foodstuffs, such as pasta and oil, are all also having an impact. Food price inflation, along with increased energy costs are forcing more people to need to use food banks. In turn the challenges within the supply chain are impacting stock at the food banks, making donations more important than ever.
“We’re very lucky in that we’ve got people that are donating, local residents. We’re really fortunate the Follett Trust is now onboard and donating £250 per month. Week on week we grow stronger.”
Currently the food bank is only open on Saturday mornings 9am – 11am, though in the run up to Christmas Darren and the team plan to open daily.
“We are putting together a Christmas food box parcel, so everyone will have a turkey roast dinner with all the trimmings, sweets, selection boxes, mince pies, Christmas puddings. Obviously there will be a vegetarian option too.”
One of the challenges in setting up the Knebworth Food Bank has been navigating the red tape. Darren is keen to be both compliant and transparent in undertaking this venture.
Darren pays for the premises out of his own pocket, as well as putting the money charged for the JustGiving fees back in the pot, to ensure that 100% of financial donations received go directly to buying the food.
“I upload receipts whenever we spend money from JustGiving. I want people to see what we’re spending their donations on.“
“We have to buy the stock ourselves because we’re not connected to any of the supermarkets. We’re really struggling to get connected to Fareshare and Neighbourly which are the main organisations that use the supermarkets. We’re trying but it’s taking time.”
The food bank is fully compliant, with Darren having received his level two food training certificate, and the operation is registered with the local authority.
For Darren giving back to the community is part of his DNA.
“I just like to help people. I can’t necessarily give you loads of money because I haven’t got it, I come from nothing. I’ve built a successful business, developing a good reputation including with what we do within the community. I think if you have a business then you should always be part of that community.”
In addition to numerous runs for charity, Darren has also worked with Link-Up Lunch Community, a charity that provides hot meals for the over-60s every Wednesday.
“When we were in Lockdown I was doing all the home delivery drops as a volunteer to make sure these elderly people had a hot meal on a Wednesday. Some of them would say; ‘this has made my week’. You’d be amazed at what one meal can do, but for some of these people this was the first time they’d been able to speak to somebody, safely of course, and they’d get a hot meal as well.”
‘We’d be broken without this’
Now with the Knebworth Food Bank, through the work that Darren is doing, he is offering another lifeline to local families.
“People say, ‘honestly we’d be broken without this’ and they thank us for it being there – but obviously we don’t do it for thank yous or anything else,” says Darren.
“If I can help the area a little bit, just by having something here for people if they need it, then so be it. The stigma of having a food bank in this area is very much there, and people don’t want to come in still which is a shame. It’s essential people realise, there really are no questions, we don’t need to know who you are, we don’t need to know your income. We’re here to support, not to judge anyone.”
The Knebworth Foodbank is open Saturdays 9am – 11am, serving the local community and the surrounding areas.
For more details including if you wish to support you can:
And/or email firstname.lastname@example.org