Two years ago Labour councillors Nosheen Dad, Masood Ahmed and Gulfam Asif set up the Covid-19 Response Group to distribute food and essential items during the first weeks of the pandemic.
Initially geared towards helping around 200 people in the Thornhill Lees area, it eventually catered for around 6,700 people with food going beyond the Dewsbury borders.
The food bank was set up with just £500, followed by £5,000 from the councillors’ Dewsbury South ward budget. Now they have started again – and hot food is on the menu.
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There was a steady flow of people walking into Thornhill Lees Community Centre on Brewery Lane. Many were mums with kids. Some stopped for a lunch of hot soup or pakoras, all hand-made in the kitchen. Others picked up essentials: bread, fruit, tinned goods.
“It’s sad that we need food banks for hot meal provision, but these are the times that we’re in,” said Coun Dad.
“There’s a real need for it – and this is not the only hub offering hot food in the area.
“There could be a family out there that’s going to call at them all just to get a hot meal as often as they can. People shouldn’t feel embarrassed that they are coming in. We want them to come in.”
Staffed by volunteers, the hub also offers a place to sit and meet other people, to seek advice on matters such as mental health, and to use the digital hub if they’re applying for a job.
One young mum who visited with her two daughters said she had heard about the hot food hub on a local WhatsApp group.
She said: “For me, it’s financial. Prices are going up, and this is very close to where I live. I’m just here for my kids.”
Another mother, who was accompanied by her daughter, said: “It’s a good idea if people are struggling or if they’re alone.
"There’s a lot of lovely people here as well as the food on offer. And it’s good to be getting out and seeing people.”
Some people were reluctant to talk or be open about their circumstances. Embarrassment is a common factor; some people are proud.
Former councillor Gulfam Asif said there was “a real mixed bag” of people coming into the centre. For the first Thursday session volunteers prepared food for 12 people.
In the time that the Local Democracy Reporting Service was present, a trickle of visitors turned into a steady flood.
In a back room are shelves of pasta, cereals, cooking oil, tea bags and tins, which need constant replenishing.
Mr Asif added: “I met a guy who was going to work to do a 12-hour shift. He had nothing to eat, no lunch.
"He said he might be able to get some from his mates. That just melted my heart. I got him a bagful of food to take with him to work.
“I met another local woman who had a few pieces of bread and some jam, and that’s all she had in the house. That’s not right.
"We’ve had quite a few people today but we can cope with a big queue. We want people that need food to be coming in.
"Those in need of help sometimes feel embarrassed but it’s not a food bank, it’s a hot food hub.”
In the kitchen Sandra and Fozia were rustling up soup, pakoras and onion bhajis, the latter with batter Fozia had prepared at home.
“It’s all home-made!” said Sandra. And it was well received by parents and children alike.
Centre chairman Bruce Bellwood has been busy growing food in a nearby allotment. He charges £20 for a raised bed and urges local folk to grow fruit and veg for themselves and, maybe, to donate to the hub.
He just needs a mains water supply and is working with Yorkshire Water to try and have one fitted.
Mr Asif said he had a message for local businesses. He said: “I know it’s tough times for everyone but if they want to ring us to offer financial or other help, we will take that on.
"Even a small amount could make a difference, or donations of food.
“There’s a lot of businesses out there that genuinely do want to help. I’d ask them to get in touch.
“This hot food hub is for people from all around Dewsbury. We’re a diverse community with lots of different people. We don’t want to turn anyone away.”
The centre intends to host a car boot sale from 9am to 1pm on August 28 to raise funds, with pitches at £5 a car. Volunteers are welcome.
To contact the centre, call 07867 376364 or email [email protected] and ask for Sandra or Gulfam.