Watford Food Bank does important work in the community - but have you ever thought about getting involved? Here, volunteers explain what you can do to help.

Refugees and "food banks" are frequently mentioned in main-stream media, but how many of us in Watford know much about the details of what is being done to help people locally and how they can be involved at many levels?

There are groups of dedicated volunteers of all ages in the area, who work tirelessly to help vulnerable people in times of dire need.

Back in June, the St Albans and South Herts Co-operative Party selected the Watford Food Bank and the Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership to support financially over the next year.

In August and September the co-op group's chairman, John Dowdle and vice chairman, Jeni Swift Gillett visited the two charities to learn more about what they do. They were amazed to see the extent of what goes on.

The Refugee Project

Headed up by Dorothy Knightley, it supports up to 150 families in the area ranging from single people to families with young children who have fled, in fear of their lives, from war torn areas with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Thanks to the charity, local refugees are temporarily housed and given free legal advice to help them with their applications for asylum as well as payments for access to health services.

Food and other daily essentials from nappies and baby wipes to toothbrushes, shampoo and cleaning materials are collected from members of the public who also make monetary donations to cover costs, although the helpers claim nothing for their time and personal expenses, they always welcome donations of any kind including money, expertise and time.

The drop in centre at St. John's Church welcomes visitors between 11am and 1pm every Tuesday and Friday where they are offered drinks and biscuits and a sympathetic and knowledgeable ear.

They can be contacted at https://www.wtrrp.org.uk/donate or 01923 252434.

The Watford Food Bank

Part of The Trussell Trust, it helps needy families and individuals who are referred by doctors, social workers and social services, with food and other essentials for daily living.

The trust has a pool of volunteers who keep both the HQ and the various distribution centres active every weekday.

At the main depot there is a massive and efficient operation going on under the leadership of Andrew Tranter. Food and toiletries etc are first sorted into categories and clearly dated in one area of the warehouse. Then, in another area, boxes are filled with three days worth of essentials for various sizes of families.

These are then taken to distribution centres in Watford and South Oxhey where other helpers work to give the contents of the boxes to registered needy people. Everything is neatly stacked in labelled shelves to aid the efficiency of this vital operation.

Supplies can run very low particularly in times of bad weather so donations of non-perishable foods are much needed and welcomed at any time.

Tinned tomatoes, rice, pasta and baked beans are especially popular but tinned meat and fish as well as soups, sauces and even pet food (wet or dry) has a place. They are even able to accept contributions via online shopping from all the major supermarkets who will deliver to the main centre off imperial way.

If anyone is able to offer contributions or give a few hours a week to help with this vital work they can go online at https://watford.foodbank.org.uk/give-help or call and leave a message on 01923 804435. Please note that Email enquiries are better as the phone's message facility quickly fills up. Donations in kind or money are accepted at the distribution centres too.

The co-op party's support

Chairman John Dowdle, said: "The St Albans and South Hertfordshire Branch Co-operative Party is delighted to be able to make a small contribution towards the work of these highly valuable local charities. We urge all local residents to contribute whatever they can - however large or small - towards these much-needed organisations.

"They are run solely by volunteers who kindly give up large amounts of time and energy to pick up local family problems that the statutory authorities are unable to deal with properly."

Vice chairman, Jeni, added: “Some of us are already thinking about Christmas and the shops are stocking up for the festivities. Can we all buy a little extra something when we do our shop for others who are not so fortunate? Anything from non-perishable foods to toiletries and cleaning materials is always needed. Seasonal gifts and toys for children would be welcomed by both of these excellent charities.”

For information about The Co-operative Party or to join please go to https://party.coop/