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TWO inspirational volunteers from Braintree – who have stepped up to support their local food bank throughout the pandemic – are being recognised for their incredible contributions, by anti-food poverty charity the Trussell Trust.

Helen Hopkins and Paul Nolan have been helping to sort, manage and distribute food donations at Braintree Area Foodbank, which is part of the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks, ever since the country first went into lockdown in March 2020.

Helen, 53, has been volunteering as the Christ Church Distribution Centre Manager where she looks after a team of around twenty people to ensure that the food bank parcels are adequately stored, processed and distributed to people facing crisis across the local area.

While Paul, 64, has been volunteering as a Transport Manager at the food bank where he looks after a team of drivers who deliver food to the distribution centres, collect donations from supermarkets and other collection points, and bring them back to the food bank’s warehouse for processing.

Thanks to the tireless support of people like Helen and Paul, the Braintree Area foodbank, which has four food bank centres across the area, has been able to get as much food as possible to the people who needed it throughout the pandemic, which has been a particularly busy and challenging time.

This week (Tuesday 1 June – Monday 7 June) is Volunteers’ Week and now Helen and Paul, along with the food bank’s other centre managers, Stella and Mike Thompson, Maggie Ouwehand, Martin Potter, Barry Everett, Ros Stafford and their deputies, are being celebrated by the Trussell Trust for their outstanding contribution to the cause over the past twelve months, along with the wider team of volunteers at Braintree Area Foodbank.

Helen, who is a mum of three, said: “I really love volunteering as I feel it’s important to do something to help others. There are so many people across Braintree who are struggling to feed themselves. When I was a child, money was sometimes tight and to have had the food bank service we have today would have made a big difference.

“It’s not right that people in a country like Britain should be struggling to feed their families. Food is a basic requirement in life and it’s truly heart-breaking to hear some of the stories from people who come in to use the food bank. It is a privilege to be a part of a Foodbank family of very dedicated volunteers, without them the Christ Church Distribution Centre could not function.”

Paul, who joined the food bank after retiring five years ago, said: “Volunteering for the food bank is great way to give back and make a real difference to people’s lives. The last year has been incredibly busy and we’ve been driving all over the place in our van – to and from the various centres and collection points, to pick up and distribute donations.

“During this process, we have been bowled over by the generosity of local people who have provided donations to keep the food bank very well stocked, so that we can ensure our clients receive a great variety of food. I feel grateful to be part of a group of fantastic volunteers here in Braintree, who are all incredible.”

The work of the food bank in Braintree has never been more vital, as many people are needing to use a food bank to survive. The Braintree Area Foodbank, which is part of the Trussell Trust network, distributed 5,842 emergency food parcels to people facing crisis in the Braintree district and its surrounding areas between April 2020 and March 2021.*

The Trussell Trust’s head of volunteer management Miranda Beebe said: “We are incredibly grateful to the amazing army of volunteers at the Braintree Area Foodbank who have kept the food bank running in very challenging circumstances.

“It’s thanks to people like Helen and Paul that food banks across the network have been able to provide the lifeline of emergency food and additional support to thousands of people in crisis over the last year. Now, more than ever, we need the support of our volunteers to help ensure that our food banks can continue to provide this help to people who need it.

“But ultimately, no one should need to use a food bank to get by. Everyone should be able to afford the basics in life. That’s why we’re working nationally to campaign for a hunger free future.”