“It’s been quite an eye-opener.”

I first met Zaman during the first lockdown when I was volunteering for the Ardwick and Longsight Mutual Aid Group. Zaman runs the Work for Smile charity in Longsight, a food distribution project for people in need.

Work for Smile is part of a food support network which had been providing hot meals at the Qadria Jilania Mosque in Longsight since the start of the pandemic.

During September, with the support of the network, family and partners, Zaman set up the new food project on Mitre Road, a short distance from the mosque to provide free food and supplies to those who are struggling.

Zaman is so inspiring. He dedicates pretty much all his time supporting his ‘brothers and sisters’ of the community.

When he asked if I’d like to join the Work for Smile volunteers, I jumped at the chance to help. My boyfriend Alex even offered to come with me. He’d never done any volunteering before, but was interested in what I’d been doing in the Mutual Aid Group.

So, on a Sunday lunchtime last month, Alex and I and the other volunteers got ready with masks and gloves to welcome our first ‘customers’ of the day.

Zaman’s son Idrak was on the entrance, signing people in and handing out face masks. Aron was on water, toilet rolls, cereals and bread. I was giving out tins, pasta, rice, cooking oil and other dry food. Alex was looking after the fresh fruit and veg.

People were a bit hesitant at first: they couldn’t believe it was free. The way it works is each person walks along the food tables and picks out one or two items of dry food and as much fresh food as they need. We then bag it up for them. It creates a sort of personal shopping experience and ensures that food is not wasted if not needed.

Volunteering at the food bank has been quite an eye-opener. We see everyone from the homeless, to families, to teenagers and single residents. It’s great that the homeless feel comfortable enough to come in and pick something for themselves. They might not use food provision that you can only access through a helpline so I do feel this project has a wide reach.

During the one hour that we’re open, we usually serve around 40 people. That’s sad because I think there’s a much greater need than most realise.

Volunteering at Work for Smile has been a great opportunity to meet local councillors who’ve joined in and supported. I’ve found it comforting seeing familiar faces from the Ardwick and Longsight Mutual aid Group and also nice to meet some new people through the Work for Smile volunteer group.

Funding can sometimes be difficult therefore Zaman, his family, various partners and volunteers all support the project with either donations or resources. Zaman says they’ll carry on with the project for as long as they get the support.

Each time I’ve volunteered at the food bank I’ve come away feeling satisfied that I’ve made a small difference but there is also frustration that the issues are not going away, there is so much more to do. I wonder when the day will come when no one has to rely on food banks and everyone can be fully independent.

Wouldn’t it be great if those that are able could donate just one hour of their time a week, it really would make a massive difference.

If you need any food support please call Work for Smile on 07443 107799.

The Work for Smile project is open everyday (apart from Saturday) from 1-2pm at 4 Mitre Road, Longsight, M13 0NU.

If you’d like to volunteer locally take a look at the opportunities here: