Feeding Eindhoven : Meet Rob Baken, Chairman, Foodbank Eindhoven

Pic Courtesy : Rob Baken

Did you know that more than 35 thousand food packages are distributed weekly by the 171 food banks in the Netherlands? The relentless efforts of 12,000+ volunteers make this happen. Eindhoven has its own Food Bank. Eindhoven News met up with Rob Baken, the Chairman. Rob leads our city’s food bank. Continue reading this inspiring and humbling service by the food bank volunteer team.

The Food Bank of Eindhoven has been providing aid to families in need from the year 2005. You will be impressed by the buzzing and immaculate Kanaaldijk-Noord distribution centre. This is where most of the work happens – purely by virtue of the time and dedication of its volunteers. The Food Bank has continued to serve its clientele in spite of all the challenges that the pandemic has thrown at them.

Chairman’s role and inspiration …

Rob:  It is a special role. I have to give direction to the Food Bank organisation.  It runs on the work done by the 100 plus unpaid volunteers we have today. I consider it an honour to provide food packets to around 600 clients. We are able to help them through a difficult time – unemployment, health or other tough situations.

The first year as Chairman…

Rob: When I took over in November 2019, we had plans to prepare the organisation for growth. We wanted to increase our reach to 800 or even 1000 needy families. But with COVID, the focus has been to be safe and to stay open for our existing clients. It was a very busy year. We could not even give a proper send-off to our former Chairman and Secretary. We were happy that a lot of people gave food and donations to the Food Bank during this time. The children at the International School of Eindhoven did a collection drive for us. It was heartwarming and it is for reasons like this that we do our job. Hoping that this year things get back to normal and we can go into growth mode.

Hats off to the volunteers…

Rob: The Food Bank is fully volunteer-run. Nobody is paid. We had 130 volunteers. The majority of them are retired and have worked here for many years. They like to volunteer a few times a week to meet other people and help others. During COVID, some of them could not continue due to safety. Now in Eindhoven, we have over a hundred volunteers. This has meant a lot of hard work to continue the same efforts with fewer people. Most volunteers are very willing to work extra hours. For example, a team of 12 volunteers are working late in the evening to collect supplies at an Albert Heijn in North Eindhoven ahead of their renovation.

Picture Courtesy: Rob Baken

When the pandemic came…

Rob: The number of clients have remained stable at 600 and has not gone up in Eindhoven during the pandemic. In the first lockdown, we had a surplus of food coming from restaurants and canteens of companies like DAF. So we had a situation where we could not even walk here anymore as it was so full of food supplies. In the second lockdown, in October – November, it was harder. At one point, we even talked to the Municipality seeking help.  But, miraculously, we started getting supplies again and we did not have to take support. We are very proud that we were able to serve the 600 families every single week even during the peak pandemic time.

What is in a food packet?

Rob: Our packets are a mix of long life food with fresh items added just before giving out to our clients. So they typically get rice, pasta, pancake supplies and meat, yoghurt, milk, fruit and vegetables and so on. Each food packet is around 25 -30 Euros and so we give out food for around 20,000 Euros per week. One of our suppliers donated umbrellas which our clients could use while waiting outside. They get wet while waiting when it rains and that was very helpful!

Light at the end of the tunnel..

Rob: The average timeframe that families come to pick food packets is around 13 months. In that time, they are helped by organisations like WIJEindhoven and the Salvation Army to find a job or get out of their problems. But sometimes it is difficult for older clients or ones with major health issues. The duration is then longer.

Picture Courtesy : Rob Baken

Helping the Foodbank…

Rob: People can always donate food and money. We have to pay our rents and insurance. We have to keep our vehicles running to be able to supply the food for the families who depend on us. That is almost 70,000 Euros in a year for us. When donating food, they can  call us to make an appointment. Food can be delivered at the distribution centre, pick up locations or even be picked by the volunteers. The Food Bank is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. Appointments can be made for the weekends as well.

Eindhoven News thanks Rob and his entire team of volunteers for their all efforts. Their priceless contributions make Eindhoven a better place.

In conversation with Rob Baken

For Eindhoven News: Muktha Kartik Iyer

Muktha is a Process Consultant by profession and is passionate about books, languages and animals. She is working on her dream of publishing a rack full of books of her own.

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