A CUSTOMER has seen at first-hand how her savings in a North-East building society are helping vulnerable people.

Louise Graham and her children all have savings accounts with Darlington Building Society, which annually donates five per cent of its profits to good causes.

And now a charity group that Louise founded is benefitting from a £3,000 grant through the Society’s five per cent pledge.

Louise set up Food For Thought in 2017 when she realised how poverty was growing in Darlington. Prior to lockdown, the group was collecting and distributing surplus food from supermarkets to those most in need, as well as running cookery groups, teaching different cooking skills to help them make the most of what was available.

“We could see that there was a lot of perfectly edible food going to waste, so we wanted to address that, and, at the same time, do something to support people in a way that was discreet, that wasn’t along the lines of a traditional foodbank,” says Louise.

“It was wonderful, so great. However, the first lockdown put the kybosh on pretty much everything we had been doing, and we had to have a major re-think.

“When you’re on the breadline anyway, something like this comes along and it can really plunge you deeper and deeper into more  problems,” she says. “The pandemic is further impacting on the lives of people who are already in precarious situations in terms of family income, job insecurity, and children who can’t go to school.”

It isn’t only fresh food that people need, they need store cupboard essentials like dried and tinned food, and specific items, such as baby food, cleaning and laundry products.

“These are things that are like a lifeline for the people that we support, and we realised that we would have to buy the items that weren’t donated directly.”

Louise originally applied for a grant through County Durham Community Fund, which works in partnership with the Society to help local community groups.

“It was wonderful to get an email from CDCF telling us that Darlington Building Society would support us from their five per cent pledge fund,” she says.

Volunteers for Food for Thought deliver to hundreds of individuals in around 45 to 60 households every week, which could be someone living on their own, or a family of six. It’s a challenge for the volunteers because of Covid restrictions, so a regular, small team of between six and eight people sort and pack in the evenings, at St James the Great Church Hall at Albert Hill, which has been generously provided by the congregation.

The goods are then distributed by a team of 8-10 delivery drivers, working alone or with a member of their own household.

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are for the grant which will ensure that the food we collect and have donated to us, along with the essentials, will go further for the people that we are delivering to,” says Louise.

Michelle Cooper, CEO of County Durham Community Foundation, said: “It has been terrific to support Darlington Building Society in their commitment to giving back to the communities where their staff and clients live. They are a great example to the business community that success is even better when shared, and that by working together, great things can be accomplished.”