The founder of a community food bank says it was a delivery to a poverty-stricken high rise that convinced her she had to turn her effort into a full-time operation.

Maureen Cummings only started Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels (OKFP) during the Covid lockdown, initially helping elderly residents by delivering their prescriptions.

But she soon discovered the demand for help was greater than she'd first thought - something that has been further compounded by the current cost-of-living crisis.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: A local business donates to the causeA local business donates to the cause

And speaking to the Reporter, Maureen insists nobody should be ashamed of turning up at her door and urged anyone who is struggling to reach out to her.

She said: “The majority of our volunteers have been that person that’s walked through the door

“That’s the beauty of it. We all have our own lived experience of having to ask for help.

”And it is the last resort when you are a proud person.”

Maureen worked as a letting agent before the Covid pandemic struck and both she and her husband were put on furlough.

Pandemic struggles

In May 2020, she came up with the idea of helping people who needed prescriptions but couldn’t leave their home because of lockdown. Maureen stepped in, going to chemists and delivering medicine to doorsteps.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: Jamie, who uses the food bank every week, has been living without electricity recentlyJamie, who uses the food bank every week, has been living without electricity recently

Some residents then began asking Maureen to pick up daily essentials such as bread and milk too, and local shops contacted her to offer their food to provide to the community.

She then began running a food bank from her house, delivering it to people’s doors.

A chat with the owner of the Twisted Thistle pub in the village, which was closed at the time, allowed Maureen to hand out food to those that needed it from the doorway of the pub.

From there the operation grew to such an extent that it had to move to the Barclay Church in nearby Dalmuir to cope with the amount of food she had and the demand she was experiencing.

Heartbreaking delivery

But it was a call from a council social worker asking OKFP to deliver to a property in Mountblow in Clydebank that Maureen describes as the moment that changed everything.

The request was for an emergency food parcel to be delivered to Quebec House - but when the OKFP volunteers arrived at the property, the boarded-up flats and derelict-looking building left them thinking they had the wrong address.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: Regulars known as 'The Golden Girls' meet every Wednesday for some knitting and a natterRegulars known as 'The Golden Girls' meet every Wednesday for some knitting and a natter

“It was silent - you couldn’t see a thing," Maureen said.

"The close lights weren’t working, the smell in the close was awful and we found our way to this door.

“A woman answered - a really cheery wee woman with grandkids in the background - and that’s who we were to deliver this emergency food parcel to.

“It was just such deprivation. I went back out to the car, and I was just in tears. I said ‘we have to do something'.

The next week, OKFP's small team returned to Quebec House with four cars full of food, sat in the car park, and started beeping the horns of the cars, announcing that there was free food on offer.

A week later, when Maureen arrived at Quebec House for a third time, she had a queue of 18 people waiting.

In January this year, the project gave out 66 food parcels. In June alone that number rose to 369.

The group is now feeding 200 people each week, which equates to 100 parcels of food, with each parcel containing a minimum of 20 items - meaning they are giving out 2,000 items of food each week.

New visitors

And on a recent visit to the OKFP by the Reporter, Maureen and the team explained they are seeing new people coming to them for help all the time.

Among them was one woman who had taken a bus and then walked for a further 45 minutes to reach OKFP - whose base is now in an industrial unit off Station Road in the village.

The woman, who asked not to be named, arrived nervously and in tears, admitting to feeling a sense of shame at her situation.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: Night such as an 80s night and music lessons are put on in what is now known as a community hubNight such as an 80s night and music lessons are put on in what is now known as a community hub

But within minutes, Maureen, alongside every volunteer on shift, had taken a moment to embrace her, sitting her down in the food bank’s newest addition, the Chatty Café, designed to relieve the anxiety often felt by people arriving at the facility.

The woman said: “Right this minute, I’m not due money for another week and I have no milk, bread or butter or anything for my son to eat.

“I was very anxious to come. Talking to them online I can do no bother as I don’t have to see people face-to-face, but I was worried to come in here.

“But I think it was the café part that made me feel more comfortable about coming because you can just come for a conversation.”

As the demand for OKFP's help continues to rise, Maureen and her team say the project's base has now become more of a community hub than a place where people need to go to get free food.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: Food is displayed in baskets rather than crates to ease the stigma people might have from using food banksFood is displayed in baskets rather than crates to ease the stigma people might have from using food banks

She puts on fitness classes, yoga, music lessons, meditation, 70s and 80s nights, as well as offering help to people to fill out welfare forms and CV building.

And just last week, the OKFP put on a chippy night, getting fish suppers in after one woman had told Maureen she hadn’t had a chip shop meal since her husband passed away.

Lindajane, a semi-retired English teacher, now comes to the hub on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a coffee, lunch and to catch up with people she now considers friends.

“It’s changed the face of this village, it really has," she said.

“I come in most days just to see Maureen as she is so lovely.

“She built a café around it to stop people being embarrassed."

Karmen, who has been volunteering at the OKFP since October, was full of praise for the way the operation is run.

She said: “Everybody is happy when they come here, it’s nice.

“Maureen is also the best boss.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s a food bank anymore. I’d say it’s borrowing something from friends because everyone who takes something then gives back.”