Tales from the food bank (54)

These are my opinions only and not those of the Melchester food bank

by Rick Johansen

T’was the week and a bit before Christmas. We weren’t waiting for Saint Nicholas, but for more people who didn’t have any food to eat. And for two hours or so, they did pass by and following St Robert Geldof’s advice, we tried to help feed the world. Or at least the part of it we cover.

You may wonder why I’ve used a picture of petulant, short-trousered prime minister Rishi Sunak in the header to this blog so here’s the reason why. Yesterday, at prime minister’s questions Sunak was asked about the 140,000 homeless children in Britain and in particular 11 year old Liam Walker who had asked Santa that free his toys from storage and that his “family be happy again“. Sunak totally lost his shit, though not at the disgraceful fact that so many children are homeless. Instead he went off on one about … checks notes … the EU. What he feels about food banks and the volunteers that staff them might be unprintable. He’d probably send us all to Rwanda, slimy little toad that he is. So, sod Sunak. Let’s do our jobs.

We saw another side to our food bank today with two separate groups of people making enormous donations to us. They turned up from local companies having done collections. We don’t usually see this happening – the frontline for us is seeing people in need – but it was great to meet some people who were helping them. If I am ashamed of my country for making food banks necessary, I am proud of the people who donate stuff. I hope they understand just how much good they are doing.

We were a little short on numbers today, thanks in one case to Covid-19 and another to regulation sickness and we were pretty busy, too. Food banks in – where am I again? Oh yes – Melchester are running up to capacity and unless people arrive with a referral we can’t help them. It is not a nice thing to have to do, telling someone they can’t get fed by us because no one has referred them, but we are at the stage now where we’d be taking from Peter to feed Paul. In other words, we are (not me personally – I’m just a volunteer) telling people without food that even a food bank can’t help them. Indeed, the first three people through the door did not have referrals and we couldn’t do anything for them.

I don’t have any statistics to back this up, yet, but from what I can gather this will be the busiest Christmas ever for food banks and given the state of our storeroom, I am not surprised. We’re out of some items and low on others so if you feel inclined to donate anything at all – a can of something left at the local supermarket would be amazing on its own, trust me – then look on the website of your local food bank and see what they need.

Martyr that I am, I’ve volunteered to do both of the Christmas shifts. If I’m being honest, I really want to do these shifts because I enjoy what I do every Thursday. Sure it’s a regular commitment and the pay isn’t great (!) but the food bank Thursday is now part of my very being. Out of choice, I have put it close to the top of my list of priorities because, frankly, I like a bit of certainty in my life. Working at the food bank gives me that.

I’m still a little suspicious about those Christmas hamper collections on the simple grounds that they are just annual events. There won’t be any more hampers until next Christmas, which the last time I looked was about 52 weeks away. I am sure the motives of the alternative organisers are entirely genuine and generous and would urge anyone and everyone to support them. I just don’t understand the need for independent operations but I suppose if some people benefit for a few days every year, it’s better than nothing at all.

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