Inspirational Women Of The Year Awards: The selfless mum who gave up her job to set up a food bank distributing food to people in crisis

The selfless mum who gave up her job to set up a food bank distributing food to people in crisis

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UPDATED:

12:10 GMT, 4 October 2012

Last month, the Mail launched the sixth
annual Inspirational Women of the Year competition, in association with
the Sanctuary Spa and the charity Wellbeing of Women. Use the form below
to nominate an extraordinary woman you know — finalists will be invited
to a ceremony in London next month and the winner will receive a
5,000 luxury break. Here, INDIA STURGIS introduces our latest nominee.

Surrounded by towering piles of tinned food in London’s Hammersmith and Fulham food bank — a centre which distributes donated food to local people in crisis — 44-year-old Daphine Aikens lets slip a secret.

‘Yesterday it wasn’t until I finished work here at 9pm that I realised I had no dinner at home. Working flat out for days I hadn’t given a thought to feeding myself. I had to grab some emergency pizzas from the supermarket on the way home,’ she grins. ‘And that wasn’t the first time that’s happened.’

You can forgive Daphine, the food bank’s founder and manager, for forgetting to stock her own kitchen cupboards once in a while. Without her selfless work there wouldn’t be even a tea bag to hand out at the Hammersmith and Fulham food bank.

Selfless: Daphine Aikens at the food bank she founded

Selfless: Daphine Aikens at the food bank she founded

You can forgive Daphine, the food bank’s founder and manager, for becoming a temporary beneficiary of the charity. Without her selfless work there wouldn’t even be a tea bag to hand out.

The mother of two started up the bank — one of the first of its kind in London — in June 2010, after being unable to stand the thought of local children going hungry.

Today, she’s given up her paid office job to volunteer full-time, as well as devoting her evenings and weekends to keeping the charity afloat.

With the help of four volunteers, Daphine’s fed more than 2,000 men, women and children, giving out a ton of food each month. Today sees the opening of a second food bank at St Simon’s Church, in Shepherd’s Bush.

Inspired by a woman in the U.S. who started up a similar initiative, Daphine approached her local church with the idea three years ago. ‘I’d done a lot of research into poverty levels in the UK. I knew it was a problem,’ she says.

With little employment experience, save a couple of years’ work as a secretary before having children and a one-day-a-week office job since then, she expected to be put in charge of little more than making tea.

It was a shock, then, when the church asked her to take full control of the project.

Until that point, she had been a full-time mother to son Matthew, 16, and 13-year-old daughter Callista, while her husband Tim, 61, worked as a freelance management consultant.

Daphine says: ‘I was thrilled and terrified in equal measures. The next six months were a baptism of fire. I was rarely off the phone, encouraging people to donate food and getting local charities, GPs and hostels to refer people to us.

‘I got a lot of nos and doubted my ability most days. There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel.’

Luckily, despite a slow start — ‘not one person came for the two weeks after we opened’ — word got around and soon food donations and clients began to flood in. Now, each week Daphine sees anything from 50 to 80 people who need emergency food.

‘I thought I had an idea how impoverished people in this country were, but it was a huge culture shock seeing it first-hand,’ she says. ‘Most people who come to us are broken.

‘They are distraught, ashamed and often cry when they see the food. I try to make them feel at ease and ensure they get everything they need, but there are often times when I am moved to tears.’

Daphine has seen it all: young runaways, victims of domestic abuse, those in hiding, sex trafficking victims, the unemployed and, increasingly, those unable to manage when benefits are delayed through no fault of their own.

‘The most moving case was when a mother in her early 20s came to us with a four-month-old baby,’ she recalls.

Inspirational women of the year

‘She’d run away from an abusive
partner. Jobless and hungry, she was unable to produce milk to feed her
baby, who was dangerously malnourished. We gave her the essentials until
she could get on her feet. It was heart-breaking but it felt good to
help.’

This summer, Daphine was nominated by
her local community to carry the Paralympic torch, an event which she
describes as ‘a huge honour’.

‘I actually burst into tears after
being handed the flame. Quite embarrassing, really,’ she grimaces,
adding. ‘The food bank has definitely changed me. I’m far more patient
and better at listening, even to my children.

‘I’m also more confident and have become quite a competent saleswoman.’

There are downsides, too, and inevitably it has been a struggle juggling work and home life.

‘The hours dictate themselves,’
Daphine says. ‘I’ve missed school meetings and have been late to pick up
Callista from school. The fridge is less well stocked, the laundry less
well done and the house not so clean.

‘I am up at 6am trying to keep up,
but things slip. It’s easier now the children are older, but I often
have to put the food bank first.’

‘My personal health has gone out of
the window. I haven’t had time to visit the dentist, optician or
physiotherapist for as long as I can remember. They send me letters.’

Self-effacing to the last, Daphine is
shocked by her nomination as an Inspirational Woman. ‘I couldn’t stop
shaking; I still am. I just do what I do and couldn’t imagine doing
anything else.’

And with that a giant door swings
open and in walks a man carrying boxes piled high with tins of spaghetti
hoops, baked beans and boxes of cereal.

‘That should keep us going for
weeks,’ Daphine whoops and she’s off ticking lists, sorting food and
chatting away merrily to the other volunteers.

www.trusselltrust.org works to open food banks across the UK.

An earlier story suggested that Daphine took food from the food bank’s store then replaced it the next day. We would like to point out that was inaccurate and not the case.

To nominate your inspirational woman,
simply fill out the form below and send it in, or email your entry to
[email protected] by October 10, 2012.

Click here to enter

For more information go to www.sanctuary.com/inspirationalwomen

Pictures: STUART HENDY, NICK HOLT & JOEL ANDERSON. Styling: BARBARA McMILLAN. Hair & make-up: JOY GOODMAN AGENCY

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