Community champion dedicates BEM to foodbank team who ‘worked so hard to make a difference’

A COMMUNITY champion who dedicated her time to helping others through Tameside East Foodbank says she is accepting her BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours on behalf of her team who ‘worked so hard to make a difference’.

Heather Shepherd was project co-ordinator at the Foodbank when Covid-19 hit the country last year, throwing communities into disarray.

But she tackled the challenge head on, determined to meet the increasing demand despite reduced volunteer numbers and operational difficulties.

Heather Shepherd

And her efforts earned her the admiration of her colleagues as well as royal approval as she was nominated for the BEM by the foodbank trustees.

Heather said: “I am extremely grateful to have been nominated and recognised for this award.

“There are thousands of people across the country who deserve thanks for their efforts throughout the pandemic.

“I am accepting this award both personally and on behalf of Tameside East Foodbank and the incredible volunteers who have worked so hard to make a difference in our community.”

Heather, who continued home-schooling her children throughout the lockdowns as well as helping out at the foodbank, added: “We saw a massive increase in demand from when lockdown started in March.

“People were panic buying so there a decrease in donations but an increase in demand. And Covid guidance was changing almost every day and that made things even harder.”

As a result, Heather oversaw the foodbank’s move to amalgamate its three centres across the borough into one at Dukinfield, reducing the risk of contracting Covid-19 for volunteers.

They moved tons of items between the warehouses, with volunteers changing shifts and offering extra help as many others were self-isolating.

They also continued to co-ordinate with other agencies across the borough, who had stopped face-to-face contact, but still provided important services for foodbank users.

And Heather helped implement the introduction of deliveries to reduce to number of people coming to the warehouse but ensure they could still help those most in need.

Now, as lockdown restrictions are easing, their operations are open once more from their three centres across the borough and levels of demand are returning to normal.

Heather is now focussing on completing her teacher training and going into a teaching career, and Jean Fitzsimons has taken over as Project Coordinator at Tameside East Foodbank.

“It has been incredibly challenging over the last year or so during Covid,” Jean admitted.

“It was Heather that guided everybody through and made sure we could serve the community the best we could.

“We were blessed by the amount of donations and support we have had from the community.

“In an ideal world, we would not need foodbanks, but sadly that is not the case at the moment and we’re still very busy but demand is at more normal levels.

“We’re still working closely with agencies and have developed a referral tool to make sure we can support people beyond the foodbank.

“Food is the emergency, and we want to make sure people are supported but also that the reason they came to the foodbank in the first place is addressed as well.

“If anything has been learned from the pandemic, it is how we have to work together for the benefit of the community.”

Find out more about Tameside East Foodbank on their website: https://tamesideeast.foodbank.org.uk

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