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A day out with The Bread & Butter Thing

We were very fortunate to spend a day with The Bread and Butter Thing in Manchester yesterday to get a detailed insight into how this fantastic organisation operates. We are very grateful to Vic Harper, COO for taking the time to show us around the warehouse and then on to one of their hubs to see the delivery and distribution of food to their members.

The warehouse was in full flow when we arrived with food arrivals being stored away whether dry food on shelves, chilled products such as milk and meat going in to the chiller or frozen foods being  stored in their freezer units. One of the great features of the food they provide is the range of products they can provide so having these cold storage facilities as well as refrigerated vans is a crucial part of their operations. As well as the warehouse storage the whiteboard showed the multitude of tasks for the day, what foods, vans, personnel etc were needed to get the food from warehouse to hubs and the employees and fabulous volunteers were busying themselves ensuring everything was prepared in time for deliveries. Vans were being loaded and unloaded with some setting off to their allocated hubs for the day.

Once Vic had given us an overview of the organisation it was then time to head off to the St John’s Centre, Trafford hub to see exactly how they get the food out to their members as efficiently as possible.

By the time we arrived trestle tables had been laid out and were laden with food separated into the appropriate categories of fresh fruit and veg and dry foods such as bread and cereals. The chilled food has to remain in the refrigerated van where the volunteers were busying away sorting this out into individual bags , chilly work for them especially over the coming few months.

The happy helpers duly arrived, a diverse mix of people from the local community , and soon a simple but effective packing system is in place. The aspect of strengthening the community by involvement is one that features very high in TBBT thinking. We were on the fruit and veg sorting and once given instructions we were straight to work packing the fine array of goodies –  potatoes, onions, mushrooms, cucumber, sprouts, spring onions, apples, grapes, bunch of bananas – then storing in neat lines along the church pews and back to the start again  The same was going on further down the line for the dry goods and the pews rapidly filled out. In what seems only a few minutes 160 bags are neatly laid out and ready for the arrival of the members. A slick operation for sure.

Before any food is distributed there is time for a weigh-in to ensure the goods meet the minimum weight requirements that TBBT promise their members and then finally the three bags are laid out on the table and we are offered the chance to rate them. It really is an impressive array and we give it a, perhaps slightly harsh, 9/10, well we can’t have anyone getting complacent can we ! But it is a seriously good and more importantly healthy and varied collection of food including the occasional little treat thrown in.

All the while operations are overseen by the ever patient Craig, a man of many hats. From driving the van from warehouse to delivery point, ensuring volunteers are present and ready, checking member numbers and registering new ones plus ensuring any special requirements are available, checking food quality and weights, taking payments, cleaning up, returning storage and excess food to base and much more. The checklist on his tablet of tasks to do is certainly a long one. It seems appropriate that there is someone involved from start to finish, a familiar face present throughout and a definite part of the team as a whole.

Warm Hub

A new initiative by TBBT from now until the Spring is to offer, where possible, warm hubs. With the current fuel crisis and of course winter approaching the aim is to open two hours prior to food collection and to offer members a chance to keep warm, have some tea or soup, and a catch up with fellow community members. Not all hubs have the capability to do this but here they do. The members start to arrive for a pre-collection cuppa and chat and we tidy the packing stations away and ensure the church will be left as we found it.

And finally it is time for members to come and collect their food, whether for individuals or large families they pay the appropriate amount and systematically pick up from the volunteers before passing us where we have a few extra treats available should they want them including some rather lovely Cyclamens in trays which put an extra smile on people’s faces. On the way out they pass the van to pick up their refrigerated goods and then finally away to hopefully cook up some nutritional food.

And then they are gone and it’s time for a final clean up and eventually a return to base and prepare for the next day and another delivery to one more of the 80 or so hubs that TBBT operate.

After a final chat with Vic it is time to head home having had an informative and productive day gaining a wonderful insight into the whole process. Of course the distribution of food is paramount but we are also struck by the great feeling throughout the company and it is most evident that everyone is happy to work there particularly in the knowledge that their hard work has positive results and is making a difference particularly in these extremely testing times.

So our huge thanks to everyone who made us welcome and we wish you success as you continue to grow.

The Bread and Butter Thing

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