Time spent in a foodbank is mostly quiet, humdrum. You re-organise tins of ham, peas and chocolate biscuits, and query if Wagon Wheels are biscuits or treats. Dented tins are placed in an “at your own risk” box. Tea, tea, coffee, tea. Chit chat about bad backs and grandchildren, total weights of the last supermarket donation.
My local foodbank is based in an old shop. It’s small, too small really. It was damp and mouldy when they moved in, but the volunteers brought it back to usefulness and dignity. Volunteers are usually retired people and jobseekers, volunteering whilst they look for work to keep their skills up. Corners are clean and embroidered quilts bring some colour. Leaflets about benefit cuts, social services, domestic violence and free kid’s clubs sit on a shelf. (Naturally photos aren’t appropriate, so some calming sun sets are good for these days ahead).
I’m a newbie volunteer. Helping in my community was always on the back of my mind, and I’ll admit to feeling intimidated and not wanting to be a ‘do-gooder’. The political events of 2016 were the kick up the arse I needed, and I’m grateful to have been allowed to help.
Depending on food banks, benefits or charity isn’t many people’s first port of call. There will always be some who play the system, but every system and every line in the sand has winners and losers.
The people who need the food banks bring in such shame. There’s a little paperwork to be completed, as you can’t just walk into a food bank, someone (doctor, teacher, social worker or job centre worker) has to refer someone in. Tea, coffee & biscuits are offered. Most people don’t want to be a bother, will refuse the first time. They don’t want to be here, being given charity. Who doesn’t want to provide for their family, for themselves? Eye contact is hard to make, and people talk about that horrible bill, or having to move at short notice. There’s a mock lightness of feeling, and so many apologies for needing help. Even Theresa May would feel some tenderness for those she’s failing.
Many people who need us have jobs. But when there’s no-one who can lend you £100 to help with the unexpected bill (and maybe doesn’t need that £100 back soon), then something has to give. Key meters are a hugely expensive way of heating your home (I was on them for years), launderettes are crippling and part paying for goods is mostly more expensive than paying all at once. Being poor is an expensive business.
But critics moan about huge tvs! Holidays! But god forbid that you buy a tv and then lose your job, or even save up a little here and there and buy a tv on a sale day? Why does society demand that if you are poor you must be diminished? There will always be dishonest people but is every referee to the Food Bank a junkie, a lier, a crook?
Communities who work together and trust each other more can make a big difference. Do you have one or two hours to sit in a foodbank, or your local cub pack? We all know that we need to fight our echo chambers, and talking to the real people in your physical community is a great place to start.
Please donate to your local Food Bank. One tin of carrots, or, even better, some sanitary towels, razors or shaving foam. Spend the cash that would usually go on a latte and croissant and buy toothpaste and some nice shower gel, and add it to your supermarket’s Food Bank Box. Hopefully you’ll never need us, and hopefully the Food Banks will cease to be needed.
A highly recommended listen: http://www.wnyc.org/series/busted-americas-poverty-myths