Interview with Daphine Aikens, Manager of Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank

Trussell Trust Volunteer, Daphine Aikens, was nominated for the Daily Mail’s Inspirational Women of the Year Award.

Aikens, the founder and manager of the Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank, was this year publicly congratulated for her charitable efforts in South West London. The 44 year-old mother of two, was also one of the Paralympic Torch Bearers, who carried the torch 800m through the streets of London.  Daphine, who was surprised and chuffed on hearing from the Daily Mail, said it was “really lovely, very exciting and really nice to be nominated.”

A strong Christian, Aikens works tirelessly at the foodbank branches in Fulham and Shepherd’s Bush. She opened the Fulham branch after a fruitless Google search showed a lack of foodbanks in her local area. She said: “Hunger, and particularly local hunger, was something that I was aware of and alarmed by.”

After talking to her vicar, and attending a meeting at her church, Daphine became inspired by the foodbank project: “It felt approachable, felt this was something I could manage.” A busy mother, Daphine chuckled as she admitted that motherhood equipped her for her role as the head of a busy, urban foodbank.

The Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank opened in June 2010. It is based in two branches, at Christ Church Fulham and St Simon’s, Shepherd’s Bush, and covers the Hammersmith and Fulham Borough. The Shepherd’s Bush branch opened just six weeks ago, Daphine said, continuing, “It is going well and it certainly makes it an awful lot easier for people in the borough.”

Already 22% of the clients seen by the Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank since 4th October have used the Shepherd’s Bush branch, Daphine said, and “overall the amount of people we’re seeing has increased.”

Travel to the foodbank is a big issue, admitted Daphine, saying that “many people don’t have the money for the bus fare.” She said she has met clients who have had to walk for two to three hours to get supplies from the foodbank, and hopes that the new branch in Shepherd’s Bush will make it easier for those most in need to access help.

Talking about her role at the foodbank, Daphine said: “We tend to see clients for quite a short time and even if we only see them two or three times, it can be quite an intense relationship.” Daphine hopes that her foodbank project in Hammersmith and Fulham is making a difference, but admits that “sometimes you can feel helpless.” In some situations, she explained, a foodbank has to signpost people for other agencies.

Though it is too early to see if the foodbank has made changes to the local area, Daphine said that hopefully the foodbank is making a difference. “One of two clients said if they didn’t have a foodbank near to them, they would have shoplifted,” she said.

The Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank has 20-30 regular volunteers and are also helped by members of the community. The foodbank receives a constant flood of emails and phone calls offering services. Most of the time, a volunteer will only see someone three times for food parcels, but, occasionally, she said, the volunteers get a Christmas card from an old client.

Throughout her time as a volunteer, Daphine said “you just meet some amazing people.” She told me vividly about one occasion on Christmas Eve in the Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank. The volunteers, sitting in their branch in Fulham, on a cold December evening, were not expecting any clients. Towards the end of the session, a gentleman walked in with a timid, fearful, six year-old girl. The man had been having a terrible time, but the volunteers were able to give them some hot drinks, cake and presents.

Daphine, who still feels moved by the situation, said incredulously, “That was someone’s Christmas Eve?!” Though it was a sad situation, the volunteers went home that evening knowing the man and his daughter would eat on Christmas Day and that, Daphine said, was “really special.”

One client, who received a few parcels, was persuaded by Hammersmith and Fulham foodbank to use other services in the area. Daphine said that this particular client now “has not had to sell her body to get money for food.”

Though the Trussell Trust is a Christian Charity, Daphine explained that they’re “careful not to force it on anyone.”

“We don’t judge anybody. Everybody is unique and special. Everyone deserves a meal.”

Though she failed to be shortlisted for the Inspirational Women of the Year Award, Daphine said that since hearing about the nomination, more people have expressed an interest in the foodbank and hopes that it will spread awareness about the project.

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