Full Steam Ahead: The vital service provided by Renfrewshire Food Train

Thursday 22nd April, 2021

At a time where their work was more crucial than ever, Stephen McGinty, regional manager of Food Train Renfrewshire, talks us through a period where perseverance and adaptability were key to protecting their service users and volunteers.

Blog by Mill Magazine as part of Paisley Food and Drink Festival 2021.

“A year on from the first UK lockdown, it is clear that the services Food Train provides for vulnerable older people are required like never before”, Stephen revealed.

“Last March was like entering the eye of a hurricane. We are entirely dependent on the volunteers who deliver our service. When the lockdown was announced, not only did demand for our service go through the roof, but we lost more than half of our volunteers who were deemed in the ‘at risk’ category and were informed that they’d have to shield.

For three weeks, the phone in the office literally did not stop, and every call was from someone in significant distress, wondering how they were going to secure grocery deliveries if they were not able to leave the house.

We really struggled at that time and we had to focus on keeping the service going for our existing members, while trying to cope with the massive demand and significant drop in our main resource – our volunteers.

I’m proud to say at that critical time, we did not miss a delivery to any of our existing members and were able to move towards meeting the new demand.

In February of last year, we typically made deliveries to around 80 households every week. By the End of April, we’d increased this to 150 deliveries per week.

 We were also completely overwhelmed by the offers of support that came forward from local people who were willing to volunteer with us. In one instance, a single Facebook post resulted in over 200 people wanting to help.

It’s worth remembering that at that time, we really didn’t understand the nature of  the virus or its symptoms, so these people were incredibly brave. They and our remaining volunteers were risking their own health to help others.

I remember going to one household to pick up two bottles of hand-sanitizer that had been offered to us. At that time, there were no PPE supplies available and we were reacting to new guidance every day.

Again, one of our proudest accomplishments to come to the fore from this period was that we were able to keep all of our vulnerable members and our volunteers protected from the virus, finding new ways to shop, deliver and take payment for our groceries.

A byproduct of this new, safer way of operating was that we were not able to have the same contact with our members. We were now unpacking groceries on the doorstep and taking payment by phone whereas under normal circumstances,  our volunteers would have unpacked in the person’s kitchen, putting items away in cupboards and fridges. All the while, they’d have a chat with them while sorting out payment and any issues, carrying out small tasks like changing light bulbs or taking out their refuse.

However, as an innovative, responsive charity, we were able to provide a temporary solution. Our volunteers who were shielding were desperate to maintain their involvement. So, we began to utilize them to make “check-in” calls with our members, ringing them to see how they were and, inevitably, going on to have a longer chat.

Over time, this has led to a new, national service called Food Train Connects which combines telephone befriending with a one-to-one shopping service for older people who reside outside our branch areas in Scotland. This complements our other befriending activities and highlights the importance of our service in not only providing vital grocery deliveries, but also offering companionship and a friendly, listening ear.

Hopefully, as lockdown eases, we will be able to revert back to having more contact with our members. As a priority service, our staff and volunteers have benefited from early vaccinations and many of our members have now received their second jab. It will also allow us to go back to keeping an eye on our members, ensuring that they have a suitable supply of nutritious groceries.

Food Train’s “Eat Well, Age Well” campaign has highlighted the scale and scope of poor nutrition among Scotland’s older people. We estimate 1 in 10 older people in Scotland are at risk of or are suffering from malnutrition.

Another impact of the move towards normality is that many of the volunteers who joined us in the past year are returning to employment or education.

We always need more volunteers and there are plenty of opportunities to assist in collecting our members shopping lists, either by phone or in person. We require volunteers who enjoy an early start to help out in the supermarkets during the week and we need drivers and helpers to go out in our– state of the art!– electric vans to deliver the groceries to our members.

Anyone who’s interested in getting involved can contact us on 0141 887 2557 or email renfrewshire@thefoodtrain.co.uk

Enjoy more online fun at Paisley Food and Drink Festival 2021