From pulling pints to helping families during a pandemic: Northampton landlady turns pub into food bank

The food bank has given out more than 2,000 bags of essential items to those in need

By Carly Odell
Friday, 1st May 2020, 6:55 am

When pubs across the country were ordered to shut on March 20, a lot of establishments ground to a halt.

But the landlady of the Swan and Helmet in Grove Road, Abington, knew she wanted to do something to help the community during the closure.

Teresa McCarthy-Dixon along with her husband and a team of hard-working volunteers, have since put together more than 2,000 bags of essential items and supported a lot of families.

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Teresa McCarthy-Dixon, the landlady of the Swan and Helmet, has turned her pub into a food bank.

The landlady, who has been at the pub for 13-and-a-half years, said: “We wanted to do something within the community, the Swan and Helmet has always been a community pub.

“As the landlady I felt like there was something we could give back and we could be the community hub.

“I could see in our own community who would benefit and there was bound to be a lot more people out there.

“I did not think for a second that the need was as great as it is out there.

The food bank is run by a team of hard working volunteers.

“We started something huge and I thought ‘how will we keep up?’

“But we have a lot of really decent people who drink in the pub. Our customers are very charitable and I knew they would get behind me.”

The food bank started with monetary or item donations from regulars that would then be made into bags of essentials by volunteers.

But demand became so huge that Teresa, who used to be chef, applied for a grant from the Northamptonshire Community Foundation and for council funding from Northampton Borough Council.

The team started bulk buying essential from places such as Aldi.

Both grant applications were accepted and the Swan and Helmet team now use the money to buy items in bulk from places such as Aldi.

Bags are then made up containing around 17 items, depending on demand each week, including pasta or rice, sauce, cereal, toilet roll, tea bags and other essentials, before either being delivered or handed out to those who are able to collect.

Teresa added: “We have to work to people’s needs. I want to provide people with food they will actually use and will make a difference to their lives.

“This week we have also started doing fruit and veg.

Teresa's husband, Anthony Dixon, has also been hand on with the food bank.

“I know that around 50 or 60 families rely on us on a weekly basis.

“For many we are the only people they see. We meet a lot of people and it is heartbreaking.

“It’s very sad out there and there are a lot of people struggling. We are their life line.”

Teresa also wanted to identify the areas that needed the service the most so got in touch with schools and community groups.

More than a month on from the start of the food bank, the team now supports 21 schools, 12 community groups and delivers to around 200 addresses every week.

So far a grand total of 2,200 bags have been made, but the food back is showing no signs of slowing down.

“Since we started we have gone from strength to strength,” Teresa continued.

“A lady called me yesterday and said she hadn’t eaten for three days because she had to keep the food for her child.

“We gave her food and said we’d deliver next week too.

“A lot of people only need us for a week or two, some need longer, but we will work with them and take each case on its own merit.

“I’m overwhelmed by how much we have grown week on week.

“I am working as many hours now as when the pub was open. The pace of my life has not changed.”

Depending on demand, the food bank needs between 15 and 20 volunteers every week in order to operate, but Teresa says she has 40 more on a volunteer waiting list, which she expects to use when people start to go back to work.

“We have a really good team behind us. I started it but I couldn’t have kept up with the big numbers on my own.

“We will have to continue during the next few months and even when the pub reopens post coronavirus we will definitely do something in the community. I can see that it is needed.”

While the money from the grants has been a huge help for the food bank, Teresa has had to set up a GoFundMe to ensure they can financially keep going when the grant money runs out.

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