Sunday sit-down with…Juliet Sanders, CEO of Feeding Families
We caught up with Juliet to chat about what made her set up her own charity, why she’s dedicated her life to prevent food poverty, and what makes Feeding Families stand out...
By Abbey Warne
In 2021 no one should be going hungry. It’s heartbreaking to see that 37% of children are suffering in food poverty right here in the North East. This is why Juliet Sanders had to step in. After seeing first-hand one family’s hardship at Christmas she couldn’t sit back and do nothing.
She decided through the power of social media to reach out to families who needed help and soon she was flooded with hundreds of replies. It brought to her attention the number of families who needed her help so selfless Juliet quit her NHS day job in order to set up her own charity Feeding Families.
And what an inspirational woman Juliet is, dedicating her life to helping those in need. We had to speak to the CEO for ourselves to talk about the importance of stopping food poverty, how she is working to achieve this and how we can help her support those in need.
What inspired you to set up Feeding Families?
My husband and I had two sofas that weren’t good enough to sell and wanted to give them away to somebody, so I advertised. A lady reached out and when we delivered them, we found she had five small children, no furniture, and was in a really bad situation. All we could think of was to go to the supermarket and load the car with food to make sure they at least had something to eat.
I put a message on social media asking if any families needed help, and within an hour, I had over 200 replies from people asking for help or asking if they could help somebody.
I thought if I can match a family to help one another family, it would be great to get them through Christmas. Very quickly, it snowballed. I brought my friends in to help and in our first year, we helped 719 families. The next year, we became a registered charity.
There are some amazing food charities in the region but what makes you stand out?
We hear a lot in the media about food insecurity and food poverty. Many are struggling but it’s for lots of different reasons. Maybe people think there is one type of person that needs help, but during covid, we’ve seen how many of us can end up in a bad situation quite quickly. For most of us, if we lost our jobs, or we got sick, it wouldn’t take too many paychecks before we might need help.
We’re not a food bank, so people don’t come and collect food from us like that. We support lots of other local charities that maybe don’t have an offering of food to give to their clients but are coming across those who need the help.
We imagine that the food banks are there, and are able to help everybody, but in terms of volume, it’s difficult. Also, if you’re ill and can’t get there, or haven’t got transport, you might struggle. We’re trying to fill these gaps, to help those who most need it.
What made you decide to start running Feeding Families all year rather than just at Christmas?
We stepped up when covid hit. At that point, we didn’t have any premises. We managed to find emergency premises in County Durham and started to get food out from there. Last year, during covid, we did 70,000 meals, and, at Christmas, we did over 8,000 hampers.
We had outgrown the small centre we had, so we opened a second in Blaydon to push into Tyne and Wear and into Northumberland, meaning we had good coverage across the North East. We are constantly adapting and coming up with new projects and new things to do.
Congrats on winning the Unsung Hero Award in 2020 at the ‘Glass Slipper Awards,’ what does this recognition mean to you?
That’s the first award that we’ve received, and it was just before covid. It was absolutely fantastic to get that recognition for all our hard work. Although I was sort of the poster girl that day for the charity, there are so many people who contribute; our trustees, volunteers, and our staff, who make it happen.
Has it surprised you how far the charity has come in such a short space of time?
Absolutely. I didn’t intend to start a charity, it just happened around me. We decided that we wanted to push out and didn’t want to stay small. We’re covering the whole region, which is quite a big task. Trying to fill all these gaps over a wide area isn’t easy, but we’ve done amazingly well.
We’ve always got new plans of what to do next and how to be more effective in what we do. It’s a really exciting time. There’s always something to do and something new coming along.
Talk to us about your Tin on a Wall project?
It’s an initiative to get food into the centres. It’s a bit of a balance because some people donate money, which is absolutely great, and it means we can buy specific things we need.
The issue with having money given, is that somehow, we have to convert it into food. We don’t have a magic wand to do that, so we find it difficult to bulk orders as we have to arrange a vehicle to pick it up and bring it in. So, Tin on a Wall, where people give food for us to collect and bring in is helpful.
We have a list of items people ask us to donate so we are giving the right things. We’ve currently got about 250 food boxes going out in Durham and Blaydon.
How can we support you?
We are updating our website, so once that gets done, it’s going to be helpful in getting people to donate. We have a donation button on there, and if people want to run an event, we have a platform on People’s Fundraising, where you can set up a fundraising page. That money goes into the charity, and the advantage of that is people can gift aid, too.
If people have other ideas, they are always welcome to talk to us and we can help them with that. For businesses, we have collection boxes for food, too. So, if anybody wants a collection box in their reception area, we can provide one. That would come into our centre and help us as well.