Tales from the food bank (43)

by Rick Johansen

Returning to the food bank after two weeks of swanning around Canada, doing stuff and seeing things I never dreamed about, reminded me, if I needed reminding (I didn’t), of how lucky I am. I’d like to feel I am properly grounded, growing up in a relatively poor household, and I will never forget where I came from. It was easy to slip back into my weekly routine of helping people who are in food poverty.

Today, I heard something from a nearby food bank, which tells a frightening story of what you think just happens to others, where suddenly, out-of-the-blue, they need assistance to eat. My colleagues were going about their usual business and someone appeared who they knew well. He was a former volunteer but this time he wasn’t there to help others: he had been forced to attend because he had no money and no food.

“I never thought this would happen to me,” he commented, sadly. “But here I am.” And with that, his former colleagues prepared an emergency food parcel, as he had helped do on countless times before, so he didn’t have to suffer and, God forbid, starve.

We are always seeing people who are surprised to be in our food bank, including people who are in full time work or senior citizens who have suddenly been presented with a huge fuel bill and have had to spend their entire pension paying it. The seniors we see could, in some ways, be regarded as the lucky ones since many have no idea we might be able to help them or, more commonly, are just too proud. I wonder how much of that attitude is down to the way in which politicians and sections of the media always present benefit claimants as scroungers and certain generations feel they are too proud to beg (not that anyone is in anyway begging when they come to see us, but do you know what I mean?). If you know of a senior citizen who is struggling to eat, tell them help, albeit temporary help, is out there.

What we never do is judge. We don’t take the referrals – the paid admin staff do that – so we just see the people and not the stories behind why they need to see us. That works for me because I’d hate to have or gain an opinion of a caller. In all likelihood, a few people do take us for a ride, but I really, honestly don’t care. I just do what I do and then I go home again. you’d have to be desperate to take food bank food is you didn’t actually need it.

Finally, I’m hearing all about kind people organising events like ‘Operation Christmas Hamper’ to help those who will otherwise have nothing. They all deserve our support but let’s not forget the problems in the here and now. Like many food banks, we are still handing out more food than we are taking in. Christmas is over three months away and it should be kept on the backburner for the time being. Hunger for millions is today and tomorrow.

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