More than just a food bank – a look behind the scenes at the ‘lifeline’ organisation CFINE

It’s a “lifeline” service that can make a massive difference to Aberdeen families through a bag of food.

But Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE) goes beyond simply providing emergency supplies for those in need.

Through a variety of different schemes, the organisation can help people make crucial changes to their lives.

The Evening Express visited the food bank’s Poynernook Road base to see firsthand how the operation works.

Walking into a hive of activity, we were immediately greeted with a warm smile from volunteer Angela Wilson.

Angela, 48, from Torry, has been volunteering with CFINE since June.

She herself had used the food bank in the past and says having the chance to help others has made a huge difference to her life.

As she showed us into a room where bags of toys lay piled high, ready to be distributed, she described how she had been inspired to start volunteering at the food bank after being forced to use it a couple of times in the past.

Angela is currently looking for paid work but says she would still like to volunteer if she did find a job.

She said: “It would upset me if I pulled away from here, I would really miss this place.

“It’s given me a purpose to get out and be with folk.

“If we didn’t have a place like this, where would we turn to?

“It’s given me my confidence back, everyone works as a team and it has given me cause to get out of bed. Every day in here is different as you are seeing different users.”

Some of the different services CFINE provides include education and training – for example reducing food waste and healthy cooking on a budget.

There’s also money and debt advice.

Val Sutherland, of the financial advice part of the charity.
Val Sutherland, of the financial advice part of the charity.

As she shows us around, it’s clear that Angela and the other volunteers are dedicated to CFINE.

In the warehouse we meet Fiona Rae, the deputy chief executive of the organisation, along with others she is busy working on fruit and vegetable hamper orders that are to go out all over Aberdeenshire and Banffshire.

She tells us there are 230 to go out, the profits are fed back into the organisation and help support the FareShare scheme – a food network that distributes surplus food from supermarkets and producers.

With £4,000 of orders, she said: “This Christmas is the biggest ever!”

At the other end of the warehouse we see volunteers making up food parcels ready to be handed out.

Meanwhile, at the service area, we watch as Angela speaks to a young man who has just walked through the door.

Shane Farmer, 23, stops to chat to us, as Angela sorts his parcel.

Shane Farmer.
Shane Farmer.

He tells us how crucial the service has been to him, not just in providing emergency food.

Shane, of the city centre, said: “I was homeless at one point and it was this place that got me a flat, through my old support worker. I owe them a lot, they are all like family, they treat each other like family and they treat the customers like family.

“You feel welcome, you don’t feel stressed or ashamed. They don’t judge you, they just say ‘here you go’.”

From the service centre, Angela takes us to Cook at the Nook, a community training kitchen and workshop.

This pristine kitchen is where those who need it can learn to cook on a budget with items they may get from the food bank.

On our way out we say a quick hello to the Cash in Your Pocket team, a referral service that offers support to help people improve their finances.

At the end of our visit there is just time to grab a quick chat with chief executive Dave Simmers, who has been working non-stop during our time at the base.

It seems that CFINE is much more to people than just a food bank and Dave readily agrees saying that, in some ways, the food is “incidental”.

He said: “What we provide is a lifeline to people, but it’s important to take a person-centred approach, each individual is different – for us that is vital. As well as providing emergency food, we also support people.”