Tales from the food bank (45)

by Rick Johansen

My colleague emerged from our store cupboard where food requests are processed, weighed and packed. “We’ve run out of tinned meat and tinned potatoes,” she told us, which meant that when we went through people’s needs we would need to tell them that this week we had no tinned meat or tinned potatoes. Few people refuse these items when offered but when it’s gone, as they say, it’s gone. Truth be known, we aren’t particularly well-stocked for many things at the moment.

We’ve observed for quite a while now that we are giving out more by way of emergency food parcels as we are taking stuff in. I don’t know why that is, but I can take a guess, which is that while we are working at the sharp end of poverty, with people who have nothing, those who have something, and might previously have donated a few items to us, can no longer do so. Only this week, we learned that food inflation is only running at 11%. Only? That means – and I appreciate you may have worked this out already – that your food bill has gone up by 11% in a year. Poorer people spend a far higher percentage of their income on food so they are affected most. But now, the spectre of poverty is far nearer to some people than ever feared it possible.

With our stock running down, it was fortunate, then, that we weren’t too busy today. By and large, people got what they wanted and needed. We had some familiar faces calling by, but there were also some food bank virgins, including one man who had found himself between jobs with no money and, so, no food. It’s a wearily familiar story. For many better off people, this might never be a problem, but in our low wage, easy hire and fire society, it’s increasingly the norm. He could not wait for his first wages slip from his new employer and we were the place of last resort.

Our admin folk are more than aware of our low stocks and are working flat out to replenish them. This is not easy since for many people the run in to Christmas starts now. Many people will now be saving for what is referred to as the pre Christmas ‘splurge’ and may be loathe to part with hard-earned cash at this time. It’s a very difficult time for many people and add to the possibility that people could be suffering from compassion fatigue, with all the different draws on their money. I do not believe compassion fatigue to be a thing, though. We’re better than that.

One thing I keep hearing about are efforts that well-meaning people are making to provide people with Christmas hampers of various kinds. “Let’s help poor and vulnerable people have a good Christmas,” says one meme I have seen on social media. But, food poverty, like pet animals, is not just for Christmas. It’s all well and good to hand disadvantaged folk something to make Christmas better, but what about today, tomorrow and the two and a half months between now and Christmas Day? If you can afford to participate in a Christmas scheme, that’s all well and good, but a worthy act once a year is tokenism, if I am being honest. Tomorrow is as important a day as The Big Day itself.


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