Sunderland food club helps hundreds manage cost of living

published on 24 Apr 2023

An affordable food club run from a Salvation Army community centre in Sunderland now has over 700 members and has served more than 4,500 bags of food to people struggling with the cost of living since it opened in December.

Hosted at the church and charity’s Austin House Community Centre in Shakespeare Street, Southwick, The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) is a national charity which provides £35 worth of nutritious food, including fresh and frozen items, at discounted prices to its members.

Operating every Friday, members have purchased the equivalent of 47,400 meals worth of food since the club opened in December, with 4,599 bags of healthy and fresh food - proving to be a lifeline for families and individuals struggling with rising energy and food prices.

Graham Wharton, community manager at Austin House, said: “For some months now we’ve been working with The Bread and Butter Thing to help them provide nutritious, healthy, fresh food to local residents. People can become members and respond to a weekly text if they need food support.

Rosalind at Southwick, Sunderland
Rosalind volunteers at The Bread and Butter Thing

“Our community has been hit hard over the past few years and with prices for basic goods shooting up, we know that people who were just about managing their weekly budgets before have been finding it impossible in recent months, so to be able to work with TBBT and set this up at Austin House has proved a Godsend for many.

“It’s not only about providing food items though. Our ethos at Austin House is you have to be MAD, as in you want to ‘make a difference’ to your community. As well as being supported by them, many of our food club members are also volunteering with us, helping to organise and pack the items, giving something back to their community. It gets people out of the house and helps them to feel less isolated.

“It’s a brilliant scheme and we only wish we could help more people but the demand is so high.”

As well as offering The Bread and Butter Thing each Friday, Austin House runs the Victory Programme, which teaches people how to cook nutritious meals on a budget, hosts a warm space, runs parent and toddler groups, and afterschool and breakfast clubs for kids.

Graham Wharton
Graham Wharton

One volunteer Rosalind, 78, said: “The Salvation Army has been at the heart of the community for years. I am here three or four times a week doing my exercise classes, yoga and kickboxing. I volunteer on The Bread and Butter Thing. All the stuff comes in in big boxes and bags and you have to sort out fruit and vegetables, items in the freezer, tick off names and give out the bags. It’s hard work. It’s oversubscribed because the need is so high.”

Last year, The Bread and Butter Thing distributed more than 5,000 tonnes of food at hubs around the country, saving its members £4.89million on their food budgets. Austin House hosts one of five food hubs in Sunderland launched with the support of Sunderland City Council.

Mark Game, CEO of The Bread and Butter Thing said: “We are delighted by the warm welcome we have received in Sunderland and to witness the impact that our affordable food is already having for families in the city. The cost of living crisis continues to make life challenging for our members, but having support from hubs like Austin House make a vital difference to people’s lives.”

Gerry Taylor, Executive Director of Health, Housing and Communities at Sunderland City Council, said: “This is such a worthwhile project and it’s brilliant to see it making a difference to families struggling to afford healthy nutritious food as the cost of everyday essentials continues to spiral.”

A woman sitting on the sofa with her children, she has her arms around her young daughter and they are both looking at and smiling at a teenage boy reading a kids book.

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