Inside Smethwick’s 24-hour emergency food bank

As the ‘only emergency 24-hour food bank in the UK’ the Salma food bank in Smethwick is vital for many families across Birmingham and beyond, BirminghamWorld reporter Joe Forte makes a visit

<p>Imran Hameed, the founder of Salma food bank</p>

Imran Hameed, the founder of Salma food bank

It’s a typical morning at the Salma food bank in Smethwick.

As I walk through the doors on a chilly December morning, Jack Bagnall, one of 750 volunteers, is busy preparing food parcels for those in need, including two elderly gentlemen who are waiting at the door.

I then meet Imran Hameed, the founder of Salma and Bearded Broz - a community project which has merged with the food bank to help people in a variety of different ways.

When I take a seat in Imran’s office, which he also uses for his job as an IT consultant, he says that Salma is “the only emergency 24-hour food bank in the UK,” with many food banks only operating two or three days a week.

The warehouse, which is almost full when I take a peak inside, is open for collection for food from Monday to Friday, 9am until 6pm, and the volunteers spend their evenings preparing to respond to calls and delivering to addresses across the region for those who can’t get out to the unit at Ash Court in Crystal Drive.

“People in Birmingham and this region are very generous with donations,” Imran tells me.

“They drop food off all the time - we even had a bag of food outside at 8am this morning.”

Imran Hameed is the founder of the Salma food bank and Bearded Broz community project

Why are food banks so important?

It’s been a busy 18 months at Salma. During the pandemic, demand for its services went through the roof.

New figures from the Trussell Trust, which supports many food banks across the UK, show that in Birmingham, 22,021 emergency food parcels – containing three or seven days’ worth of supplies – were handed out by the Trussell Trust between April and September 2021.

This was up from 17,927 during the same period in 2019, but just below the 23,424 handed out last year during the earlier stages of Covid.

“During the pandemic it went a bit mad here,” said Imran. “Especially with furlough, and right now at this moment I think we’re experiencing the calm before the storm.

“With the Christmas holidays coming up, we’re going to have a lot of people indulging in something they probably can’t afford, so we are preparing for a busy period.”

At the beginning of October 2021, the £20-per-week universal credit top-up - which was introduced in response to the pandemic and was relied on by many - came to an end.

Wholesale gas prices are also set to reach record highs this winter with millions of families already living in fuel poverty across the UK.

Jack Bagnall, one of the dedicated volunteers at Salma

Are there any particular issues that Salma Food Bank has to deal with?

Salma Food Bank helps people throughout the area, including Birmingham Hodge Hill which is the worst affected constituency in England for fuel poverty - where more than a quarter of households (27%) are affected.

Imran says he sees many families who live in Hodge Hill at Salma regularly.

“With Covid, the Universal Credit cut, and higher energy prices, I do think this will be our busiest Christmas since we opened,” he said.

What do people who use Salma Food Bank say about its services?

One woman who has recently started using Salma’s services is Marcy, a single mum who tells me she had to walk to the food bank today because she couldn’t afford the bus.

Marcy, who didn’t want her second name mentioned, contracted Covid-19 during the early stages of the pandemic and was badly affected by the virus.

She got pneumonia, and despite recovering, is still dealing with a range of symptoms including chest pains, breathing problems and fatigue.

She had to leave her job as a nurse in August this year due to her battle with long Covid, and currently relies heavily on Salma to provide food for her and her son.

“With all the bills that needed to be paid I had no income for food,” she said.

“I was advised about several other food banks and they were helpful but I wasn’t getting what I needed, and somebody from social services advised me to try here.”

Marcy, picking up her food from Salma on Friday, 3 December

Marcy was also hit particularly hard by the Universal Credit cut and is faced with a problem which is becoming more and more widespread across the UK.

“We didn’t have any heating last week because we didn’t have the money. I went and borrowed some money from friends and family because I was facing a choice of whether we have the heating on or whether we eat.

“And the Universal Credit cut made a big difference. That did affect me as well, but I’m positive things will get better now, although with the situation I’m in I do rely heavily on these guys.”

As Marcy gathers here bags, I’m introduced to an elderly woman, who is, coincidentally, called Salma.

Salma is in her 60s and herself and her daughter, who is suffering from health issues, are both currently on benefits. She’s caught two buses from Birmingham to come to the food bank for her grandchildren.

“I have been coming here for three or four months,” she said

“Money is tight - you know how expensive things are nowadays, but they are very good here and help me a lot.”

After Salma is handed her packages from Jack, Imran tells me many single mothers rely on his food bank to provide for their children.

Imran Hameed

How many people are living in poverty in the area?

A new study from Birmingham City Council has revealed that over 40% of Birmingham’s children live in relative poverty, and the city is the 3rd most deprived core city, behind Liverpool and Manchester.

And the council is now urging the government to back a levelling up strategy to boost the local economy by £9bn following the shocking revelation, which highlights how vital services like Salma are to Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Why did Imran open Salma Foodbank?

Imran was inspired to open a food bank after his mother Salma Parveen, passed away when he was a teenager.

He said she had always helped people she didn’t know and fed those who were hungry.

Imran said: “We just wanted to become that bridge, so say if a mother has got no food on Friday but has two kids to feed and the food bank doesn’t open until Tuesday, then they can come to us on Friday - and we’ll say ‘take this bag of food for the weekend and get yourself to the food bank on Tuesday.’

“We’ve become that bridge that people need.”

To make sure there is enough food available, people can only use Salma twice a month, although that can change depending on the severity of people’s situations.

The most common way people donate to Salma is through vouchers and supermarket orders, but every donation is welcome.

Here’s how you can help

You can donate by sending your shopping online, and choosing any major online supermarket, pay for the goods and have them delivered to the food bank’s address.

Salma is also accepting gift cards from Asda, Tesco, Iceland and Farmfoods. Simply buy a gift card that the food bank can use in store to buy food with, and just send to address which can be found on the Salma Foodbank website.

You can also drop food off at the Salma food bank base in Smethwick at Unit 8, Ash Court, Crystal Drive,

Smethwick, West Midlands, B66 1QG. You can also text them on 07767 164246

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