This is going to be something of a nuts and bolts blog. A logistics blog.
So I guess the best plan of attack is to keep things short and snappy. Honed down. To the point.
So Frankland, you have your remit. Crack on.
The problems of January 2023 are well enough documented. In a nutshell, millions of us turn ashen faced when our smart meter breaks the news of how much it has just cost us to boil a kettle. Tick Tock are running an advert suggesting we stash away any boiling water we don't need for the cup in a waiting flask. All boiled and ready for next time. Watch the pennies....
Like a bunch of nostalgic lemmings, it seems we are creating our very own 2023 version of 1942 without the air raids and genocide.
So. Some nuts and some bolts. Some problems to solve.
Up until a week ago, I would deliver 20 food parcels to Gretna library every three weeks or so. Suddenly they now need 20 a week. Every week. Maybe it will be 30 in a couple of months time.
Demand for emergency food parcels seems to have more or less doubled over night.
Dumfries got hit by the worst flooding in fifty years a couple of weeks ago and our basement was turned into a swimming pool. We lost a lot of food but it wasn't a complete disaster.
The bigger problem is climate change. It ain't going to be fifty years until it happens again. It might not even be fifty days.
Finding a solution to Problem 1 and Problem 2 at the same time was taxing to say the least.
Especially when we had no choice other than to factor in a bunch of supplementary problems.
If we need to double the number of food parcels we are handing out, then we are going to have to double the amount of food we are buying in. Well, duh!
Can we afford this? Thanks to the unbelievable support we received from the community in the run up to Christmas, the answer is yes, For a while at least.
Can we find someone willing to actually sell us what we need at a price we can afford?
This is a pretty big question believe it or not.
The major supermarkets are now all in full 1942 mode and rationing the hell out of their 'Value' lines. Asda won't let us buy more than 3 items from the value range. This makes Tesco's 16 seem positively generous.
Three tins of baked beans per delivery doesn't get us very far when we need to come up with 500 parcels per week.
Thankfully two retailers who were both very much on the other side of things in 1942 have stepped forward to play the role of our saviors.
Aldi and Lidl.
The managers at both Dumfries stores have promised me they are not rationing. If First Base wants to buy 500 tins of spaghetti at 16p a tin, then they will order it in for us.
Both of these businesses won the hearts of the German people in the desperate years following the war. In a decade known as 'The Hungry Fifties', Aldi in particular stepped up to the plate to sell basic food at a price the starving population could afford.
This has never been forgotten and lo and behold here they are bailing out a foodbank in Dumfries seventy years later.
However, solving Problems 3 and 4 doesn't help us to get to grips with Problem 2.
There is little point in successfully managing to buy and store 500 packets of savoury rice only to see them all ruined in the next flood.
For twenty years we have run our food parcel operation on a pretty simple basis.
We store as much as we can in the basement and fill up parcels as and when they are required.
Climate change and the threat of the floods to come mean we now need to find a way to change this.
Now we need to find a way to fill up lots and lots of parcels as soon as we purchase the required items and then find a way to make sure these parcels are safe from future flooding.
We certainly don't have the room in our upstairs areas which are all filled with freezers.
Well here's how.
Kerr at The Little Bakery in Dumfries has been one of our greatest supporters for years now. He has expanded his site and he generously offered us storage should we need it. We took him up on the offer in the autumn when we bought in three tonnes of baked beans as a hedge for the looming winter.
So I asked if we could have space for a stock of 400 food parcels and he said yes.
He's that kind of guy. To edit the words of Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now' - 'If we had ten thousand men like Kerr, the problems of the Cost of Living Crisis would be over very quickly.'
It wasn't feasable to store 400 parcels in one big pile, so we ordered 10 three sided cages on wheels. Like the ones you see in supermarkets. We found them on Ebay. £90 a pop. Thanks to the December donations, £900 was a bill we could afford to pay.
So. We had a solution to part of Problem 2. But not a perfect solution. We would still have to carry big stocks in the basement for at least two days a week and sod's law would most certainly make sure the next floods would always hit us on one of these days.
Was there a way to keep 75% of the items needed to fill and store 400 parcels out of the basement altogether?
For some years we have worked with the local Community Payback team. Quite a few of their clients have completed their community service hours with us and, touch wood, a majority have gone on to live non-re-offending lives.
They have a depot in Dumfries where community services hours are used up on a variety of worthy projects.
We made our pitch. Could we deliver all the items we buy from Lidl and Aldi to their depot where their guys would fill up the food parcels? And once all the parcels were ready, could they deliver them all to our storage area out at the Little Bakery?
The answer was yes and yes.
And all of a sudden Problems 1, 2, 3 and 4 had all taken a kicking.
We can now pick up items and keep them above the coming floods every step of the way.
And the cost apart from £900 we invested in storage cages?
Zip. Zero. Nowt. Nada.
And this where the way we managed to solve problems 1, 2, 3 and 4 is suddenly highly relevant to the times we are living in.
Think about it.
We all know there is a chronic cost of living crisis which is probably going to a permanent feature in our lives in the years to come. Politicians will never own up to the cold hard fact of how far the UK has fallen, but the cold hard fact is there all the same.
It's staring us all in the face. Our currency is weak and we are all a whole lot poorer than we were twenty years ago.
People are broke.
Councils are broke.
National Governments are broke.
The global money markets have called time on us getting away with printing any more money.
All of which means we need to find smarter ways of getting things done. The Pandemic was a great trial run for this.
Think about it.
We have been able to find solutions to some pretty daunting problems by setting up a straight forward partnership.
It's a four way thing.
We have the community who made enough donations to enable us to be in a position to buy the food and the storage cages.
We have the private sector – The Little Bakery, Aldi and Lidl – who have provided basic assistance to make things possible.
We have the public sector – The Community Payback Team – who have made people and resources available.
And we have the voluntary sector – First Base.
Our job is to put the partnership together.
This new partnership of ours has the capacity to pack and store north of 20,000 emergency parcels per annum. Just imagine what this kind of operation would cost in the government tried to do it? With premises, staff, equipment, power, IT, human resources, line management, oversight.....
My guess would be an overhead cost of £200,000 minimum. Then there would be the cost of food on top.
Well our new partnership is costing a twentieth of that.
This kind of partnership is capable of solving many of the problems we will all face in the coming years.
The voluntary sector
The private sector
Local and National Government.
If we can find imaginative ways to put all four together, all kinds of solutions can be found.
If you want to help us to keep on doing what we do, you can find our online fundraising page via the link below