There seems to have been a lot of talk this year about food banks. This is a good thing, yet not so good at the same time. Last week, I was asked by Oxfam and Unilever, if I would like to visit behind the scenes at a local food bank to see exactly how they operate. I have a deep interest in food banks – My mum volunteers a couple of times a week at our St Helens branch, but yet I still believed there was things I could learn.
So off to Crosby Food Bank I went, met by Kelly from Oxfam (More information below about Oxfam’s relationship with the food banks), Linda from the Trussell Trust (Who oversee the food banks across the North-West) and Jan who works for Crosby Food Bank. Crosby is a Liverpool based Food Bank, one of the newer food banks at around 1 year old, based inside Crosby Town Hall. Donations can be dropped off at the desk in the Town Hall, but there is a separate side entrance for people using Food Bank facilities.
This is one word that I heard over and over … the dignity of people using the food banks is paramount. No-one should be made to feel worthless or embarrassed about needing the help and this was such a strong message at Crosby. The food bank reception area is a lovely, clean, welcoming area – Seating and tables so people can come in for a much needed chat. This is definitely more than just a place where people are handed their food and left to it. The staff at Crosby recognise that for a lot of people, it takes guts to accept that they need help and even to cross the threshold of a food bank is a big thing.
Anyone can find themselves in the position of needing a Food Bank
This really struck me. I heard stories of normal families who lose a job through a short term illness, whose transport breaks down and leads to the loss of a job, who simply have a run of bad luck – These are often families where they are working but the wage rate may not be considered a ‘living wage’. Zero hours contracts, companies that are struggling themselves … the stories of benefit claimants and people not wanting to work, are simply just hyped up by the media.
I heard about a family who always shopped on a Friday. The wife was a stay-at-home mum with very young children. The husband decided one Friday that he wanted to leave and just disappeared. Just like that, a family desperate for help with nothing to eat.
We talked a lot about not just fixing the problem in the short-term. Crosby Food Bank are very lucky to have the Citizens Advice Bureau hold sessions there each week. Appointments can be made on Thursdays … already they are seeing that people are starting to feel more positive, are being helped to take steps to make improvements.
Its not just about donating Chocolate Advent Calendars
You may have heard about Jason Manford kindly tweeting to his 1M+ followers to all take advent calendars down to their local food banks. People have been so generous and they have arrived in their hundreds. The problem is though that sometimes there is a shortage of ‘real’ food to provide meals.
We tend to go through our cupboards and look for tins … chickpeas are a favourite to be donated. The volunteers at the Food Banks stress that it is a balance of nutritious foods that they need though to be able to provide balanced meals for families.
Ask your Local Food Bank how you can help
The best help we can give is to ring our food banks before starting a collection – there may be shortages of particular items (Toiletries such as sanitary items men’s toiletries and toilet rolls are often overlooked – We heard horrific stories of families knocking on their neighbour’s doors asking for newspaper to use as toilet roll).
Sometimes, its not necessarily food at a certain time that is needed … My local FB quite often needs time from volunteers to help sort out donations. Harvest festivals from school are amazing but overwhelming for the volunteers. One brilliant idea from a local school was each child to bring only one item with a 50p sellotaped to the top!
Is it in date?
Goes back to the dignity of users again … they will not be given out of date items. I have heard of one tin that was found to go out of date in 1989!
People in need still like to give themselves
I saw Shower Gels that were wrapped as gifts ready to give out. Quite often people using Food Banks have children at school who still want to give their teachers a gift at the end of term. All about making them feel part of the community and not allowing their children to stand out as needy.
I particularly loved the selection of Christmas Cards on display – People are free to take some cards to write to others. Such a small thing but massive in maintaining dignity and self-esteem.
People are directed to food banks – they don’t just turn up
To use a food bank, a person or family needs to be signposted from a support agency such as a Health Visitor. 3 voucher per year can be issued – Each voucher supplies 3 days worth of food per person/couple/family. This is nothing! Vouchers can be transferred across food banks if transport makes it impossible to get to another food bank.
Oxfam are not just about sorting out crises overseas, there is very much a home strand to their support … They help out both short term for both mad made and natural disasters, but also want to help long term to prevent the need for the emergency support. This falls into one of their 3 priorities, Emergency Aid, Development & Creating change for the future. For more information about the work of Oxfam visit their website.
There are also other organisation such as Unilever getting involved with the fight against poverty – Unilever have launched the #cleanaplate project this Christmas aiming to minimise food waste. I’m definitely in support of this doing our own little steps such as trying to get the children to empty their plates, not cooking portions of rice and paste big enough to feed the street. For more information on Unilever’s work against food poverty and their relationship with Oxfam visit here
I’d like to finish with some more facts that I found out about food banks last week:
* In the first 1/2 of 2014 over 175,000 children were given 3 days of food in UK food banks
* 500,000 people across the UK will use food banks this year
* 74,000 across the North-West will use Food Banks making it the busiest region in the country
* Approx 2000-2500 people will use Crosby Food Banks this year
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