'It has saved my life' - Mandalay food bank users' despair at closure

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC manager Trevor Saunders and volunteers Michelle Bullock and Andy Hillier givi

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC manager Trevor Saunders and volunteers Michelle Bullock and Andy Hillier giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Danielle Booden

As the last food parcel is handed out at Great Yarmouth's Mandalay food bank, Trevor Saunders breaks down in grief as he remembers being at his lowest ebb.

The one thing Mr Saunders doesn't want to do is turn his back on people.

He saw people turn their backs on him when he was struggling and vowed to not do the same thing.

However, rising operating costs are forcing his hand and his food bank will be closing by March.

The shelves at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC in Great Yarmouth's Victoria Arcade. Picture: Danielle Booden

The shelves at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC in Great Yarmouth's Victoria Arcade. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Mandalay Wellbeing Community Interest Company (CIC) in Victoria Arcade has been operating as a food bank since the start of the pandemic.

In that time, it has distributed over 42,000 food parcels to those in need.

Mr Saunders said: "I never wanted to start a food bank.

Most Read

"But I set it up to help people at the start of the pandemic.

"I'm proud of what we have done. And it is a sad day but I just can't do it anymore.

"I'm having to stop because we cannot afford to do it anymore.

"The food supply has never been the issue, it's the running costs.

"It's all very well and good helping people but I am struggling."

Members of the public waiting to collect their food parcels from Mandalay Wellbeing CIC in Great Yar

People were queuing to collect food parcels from Mandalay Wellbeing CIC on Thursday. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Mr Saunders said he was working until 9.30pm on Wednesday to get everything ready for his food bank.

On Thursday, Mandalay ran out of food in less than 15 minutes.

People were lining up outside the store from 9am to collect essentials and supplies.

Gary Mitchell, a man with a long grey beard and long hair.

Gary Mitchell said the food bank provides him with a few good meals and stops him going hungry. - Credit: James Weeds

Gary Matthews, 65, lives near Regent Road.

Mr Matthews said he began having health problems five years ago and lost half of his body weight as a result.

Mr Matthews said: "I claim universal credit, I'm 65 and I weigh eight stone.

"I'm not going to get a job anywhere.

"I've ended up coming here for food because there's nothing on me.

"You don't get much at a food bank, but it's three good meals and it stops me starving to death."

Mr Matthews called the service a lifesaver.

"I'm about to run out of everything.

"I get universal credit once a month and sometimes it's a long month."

Volunteers and staff at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC in Great Yarmouth giving out food parcels. Picture: D

Volunteers and staff at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Karen Hillyard, who lives on Nelson Road, said: "This place is my lifeline. 

"What he's doing - you can't describe it. It's unbelievable.

"The food bank's closing will affect me majorly. Half of us won't be able to survive."

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. Pictur

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC has given out over 42,000 food parcels since the start of the pandemic. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Hannah Oakley, from Great Yarmouth, said in future, she will have to go without.

"I only come when I need to and January is a long month and I needed some assistance.

"But when it closes, I won't have a choice."

Anna, from Great Yarmouth, said she only uses the foodbank when necessary.

She said: "This foodbank has saved my life a few times.

"There were times where the family I have couldn't help me.

"If you say you're starving to the benefits people, they can't do anything about it.

"Thank God for people like Trevor who have helped put food in my and my child's stomach."

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. Pictur

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels to people in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Ian, who lives in Great Yarmouth, said he had been coming to Mandalay's food bank for six months.

"I was borrowing money to survive.

"Someone advised me to come here and it's a lifesaver.

"It doesn't provide everything, but it takes the bite off.

"Trevor has put his heart into this and it is a shame to see it go."

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth.

A lifeline: Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC, giving out food parcels to people in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Mr Saunders said the "brick wall" will be in March when he will have to close his current shop, downsize his operation and close his food bank.

After the last food parcel was handed out, more people kept arriving at the shop for help.

One man needed dog food, another needed shower gel.

Two people were turned away as there was nothing left.

Mr Saunders said: "This is hard, emotional work.

"People just don't see what goes on behind the scenes.

"I've done my bit, we all have. We stood up and we did it together, but it's impossible to carry on now. 

"Mandalay is not over, there’s a lot to come, but the foodbank will end."

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. Pictur

Trevor Saunders said: "We never make a judgement. If you have the courage to stand in front of me to say you need help, we will help." - Credit: Danielle Booden

Who are the food bank's helpers?

After the last food parcel was given out, Mr Saunders closed the door to the shop and said: "That's it."

"I'm really upset."

Mr Saunders spoke to his two volunteers who were helping at the food bank on Thursday and said he never wanted to turn his back on people.

Volunteer Michelle Bullock, who lives in the town centre, said: "Trevor is a superstar.

"I've always wanted to be involved as a volunteer.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity and proud to be part of the team.

"I see it as a bicycle wheel: the hub - Trevor and Mandalay - is in the middle and we are the spokes.

"I'm honoured to be part of the team."

Volunteer Andy Hillier, also from the town centre, said: "I feel very disappointed with how everything has gone.

"It's heartbreaking.

"It's an honour to be part of Mandalay, but more needs to be done across the town."

Mr Saunders thanks all the volunteers at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC, Mel Spillman from Waitrose Norwich, Jason Stickles from Asda Great Yarmouth, Brady Hubbard from Tesco Caister and Lovewell Blake for their help and donations.

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. Pictur

Banter: Even through tough times, Trevor Saunders has a laugh with people who use Mandalay's food bank. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Trevor Saunders, manager of Mandalay Wellbeing CIC giving out food parcels in Great Yarmouth. Pictur

Trevor Saunders prepares a food parcel for collection. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Lettuce, bananas, bread, green beans, apricots, spring onions on a table.

Contents from a typical fresh food parcel at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC. - Credit: James Weeds

Tins of beans, peaches, soup, peas, rice and chocolates.

Contents of a "can cook" bag from Mandalay Wellbeing. This is given to people with access to cookers and microwaves. - Credit: James Weeds

Bags of food.

Mandalay Wellbeing's food parcels were ready for collection on Thursday morning. 15 minutes later, all the parcels were gone. - Credit: James Weeds

Bags of food in a line.

Bags of fresh food for people in need at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC on Thursday. - Credit: James Weeds