UK’s oldest foodbank volunteer, 97, thanks Stretford Mall shoppers for donating landmark 10,000 in a year

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A 97-YEAR-old great-grandmother thought to be the UK’s oldest foodbank volunteer, has launched a call for more people get involved in the charity.

Veteran volunteer Joan Hibberd is the oldest volunteer with Stretford Foodbank, which has just marked a year of collections at Stretford Mall with a landmark 10,000 meals donated by kind-hearted shoppers.

The mum-of six who has 13 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren, thanked shoppers at Stretford Mall for donating more than 4,500 kilos of food, the equivalent of more than 10,000 meals, plus almost £5,000 in monetary donations in 12 months.

Joan was joined by the charity’s youngest volunteer, schoolgirl Grace Connors, 14, to launch an appeal for more volunteers of all ages to help the Stretford Foodbank reach those who vitally need support this winter.

She urged people revitalise the spirit of the Blitz to support those in need in their community, and volunteer their time to keep the vital service going.

Born in 1922, Joan, a regular shopper at Stretford Mall, started volunteering at her local foodbank after turning ninety.

She said the sense of community she experiences being part of Stretford Foodbank’s activities reminded her of how people pulled together to support each other during the Second World War.

Joan said: “We are so pleased with Stretford Mall allowing us to do the collections there. People are so generous, it’s a great thing to be involved with.

“It’s amazing to see the difference it makes to people’s lives, I can’t tell you enough how thankful people are.

“Some people have been sleeping on the riverbank and they haven’t even got a tin opener. A lot of people have got jobs but they just don’t have enough money to pay their bills and feed their family that week for one reason or another.

“Some people are on benefits and money gets very tight at the end of the month. We even have some former service men and women.

“There are many people who have no cooking facilities because they can’t pay for their electricity so they can’t even make a cup of tea.”

Joan originally trained as a dressmaker and had just finished a four-year apprenticeship when the Second World War broke out.

She has spent the last six and a half years helping distribute meals to those in need, after a long career also including being a mother, a butcher’s assistant in Stretford Market, and a lollipop lady. After retiring she also previously helped run her local Home Watch scheme.

Joan said: “When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, but we were in it together and we helped each other out. That same feeling needs to carry on.

“People who are doing well need to keep an eye out for anyone who is struggling, it might be the people next door.

“I can remember in the late 20s and 30s when there was a depression and there was a lot of unemployment but people were willing to share. We were in it together.”

She added: “The camaraderie between people in the war was exceptional. In the Blitz if a siren went off we all went to the shelter together. People lived together. We helped each other through hard times. Now you only get to say a quick hello.

“In the Foodbank you see people starting to begin to talk together and be helpful to one another and they realise that they are not alone in what they are going through. Often they are very isolated before they visit the Foodbank.

“I would like to encourage people to think outwardly, to look at other people’s lives apart from their own. It can make such a difference.”

“When you see people donating and the difference it makes, it makes me very pleased that the majority of people are good people.”

The donations collected at Stretford Mall account for about 30% of the total food donated to Stretford Foodbank from collections across the area, with in excess of 31,672 kilos of food distributed by volunteers in the last 12 months.

The charity needs more volunteers over the age of 18 to help with jobs including sorting and weighing donations, lifting crates of food, packing food, stacking shelves,   driving donations between locations, and dealing with support agencies.

Much of the work is physical, and manual handling training is given. Most volunteering shifts last for around two to four hours.

Joan said: “it’s a much bigger job than people realise. If we are going to keep the Foodbank going we need more young people to come in and take our place.”

Gareth Wilkins, Centre Manager at Stretford Mall said: “Stretford Foodbank is an absolutely vital service for those who use it.

“We have been delighted with the generous response from our shoppers here at Stretford Mall who give much to support others in the community. To have donated 10,000 meals in a year and raised £5,000 is a phenomenal amount and just shows the strength of community here.”

He added: “It is wonderful that people like Joan volunteer their time week in week out, what a fantastic contribution!”

Louise Kershaw, Trustee and Volunteer Co-ordinator for Stretford Foodbank said on average Stretford Foodbank service users receive three emergency food parcels in six months.

However, this can vary, she said: “The Foodbank means so much to our users. It’s the difference between being able to feed their family and not.

“Some people might only come once, while others need more regular support for up to six months.

“We have a lot of people who would be classed as the working poor, they might be on a low wage or on a zero hours contract, and it doesn’t take much to tip them into poverty.

“Something like a car tyre needing to be fixed, that might cost £80, and that might just tip them over budget and that’s when they need help. Most people are quite good at managing on their budget, it’s the sudden unexpected expense which puts them in crisis.

“We also have hundreds of people waiting to go on Universal Credit, and with other people it’s addiction issues, or accommodation problems or mental health problems that mean they need support  Everyone has got their own story.”

Joan got involved in Stretford Foodbank through her church, having got into volunteering after losing her husband Harry 20 years ago.

She said: “People are so very grateful for what they receive. Toiletries is a big thing we need to help people with as well as food, so we always appreciate those.

“I know some people get embarrassed to go into a Foodbank.

“The first time I volunteered an older man came in, he had passed three times before he plucked up the courage to come in.

“Once people have come in, they realise there are so many other people like them who just need that bit of extra help. “

She added: “Every child should be entitled to a happy childhood.

“When you get older you realise you need happy memories to look back on and I am very grateful that I’ve had a good life.

“It’s a reminder that we need to look after each other so we all have these happy memories to look back on.”

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