Tales from the food bank (51)

by Rick Johansen

On such a glorious autumn day, it was a shame that I was a little under the weather today, but being the martyr I am I still turned up to help feed the world. And I am glad I did. It’s in my diary every week and generally I try to work around it when arranging the rest of my crazy social schedule. I like what I do and I am pretty sure it helps my mental health, as well as the mental health of some of our callers.

It was an average day today, with a quick flurry of callers early on and then more of a dribble of callers until closing time. There were a number of first time callers today and that always makes me work a little harder. I can only imagine what it’s like going to a food bank at all, never mind for the first time ever. People have told me it’s embarrassing, humiliating and that it’s damaging to their pride. No one, I know, wants to admit that they simply can’t manage anymore and a food bank is the end of the line. I want to put someone at ease as soon as I can and explain what we do and how we do it. What I say depends on what they say and how I think they are feeling. Keep it simple is a decent way of looking at it.

I am always in awe of my volunteer colleagues. We hear a lot in life about being “professional” and of course we aren’t professionals by any stretch of the imagination. Yet I would say each and every one of them is a consummate professional in the work that they do and the way in which they do it. Given that most of are mature, at least in terms of years, that indicates we have learned something useful in our working lives. When I joined, I half-expected a kind of semi-chaotic happy hour but I was soon put right on that. It works like clockwork, with just the right combination of compassion and efficiency.

Next week, it’s the pre Christmas collection at a local supermarket, where we act like poverty chuggers as people walk through the door, hopefully providing them with a helpful list of things they could buy and then donate. We are not stupid and recognise that times are tough, so we will be at pains to not put people under pressure. I know from painful and embarrassing experience how awkward one can feel when they are asked to make a charitable donation and simply don’t have the money to do so. As my loyal reader will know, I have my reservations about one-off “let’s do a parcel for Christmas and then forget about poverty for the rest of the year” type events because, as I do tire of saying, food poverty isn’t just for Christmas. What we do is on top of everything else we do all year round and our food bank will be open as usual between Christmas and the New Year But if you are badgered into these one-offs, then don’t not do it because I am such a cynical sod because it may help someone forget just how shit life is just for a few days of the year.

Finally, I’d like to report that a senior gentleman turned up this afternoon to donate a few items to us. He does this relatively often and I am always touched by his presence (dear). My guess is that although he is always smartly turned out, he is probably not in the highest tax bracket, but nonetheless is moved to do what he sees as his bit. Of course, I was over-gushing in my thanks to him – I can’t help myself – and I wanted him to know what a difference people like him made to people’s lives. It made my day, to be honest, and I felt my eyes start to moisten, before I remembered I had to interview someone who had just arrived to see us.

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