Tales from the food bank (56)

Back to life, back to reality

by Rick Johansen

There are still decorations in the church where we have our food bank, but on a wet and stormy late December day nothing felt like Christmas anymore. Many of the volunteers had been ill at and around Christmas or their gatherings had been depleted by Covid and the myriad of other debilitating viruses doing the rounds here in Melchester. The Christmas hampers have long been distributed and with it, at least for some people, the feeling that they’ve done their bit for food poverty and they can get on with their own lives until next Christmas. I totally get that because it was my world, too, until if everyone left it to everyone else, there would be no food bank volunteers at all.

I am sorry my cynicism is so strong with regard to the annual Christmas hampers because maybe it shouldn’t be. I know for a fact that they were well-received by the recipients and just for a short while their reality was more like ours. But I can’t help it. Food poverty isn’t just for Christmas.

We were far busier than I had expected, if not as frantically busy as last week and we were short of a number of items. The process is that someone arrives having been referred to us and we read out a list of things they can have. Unfortunately, there were a number of items, like sugar and oil to cook with that we simply didn’t have. None of our callers ever complain when we don’t have things and there’s not usually even a flicker of disappointment in their eyes. They are just grateful for anything they can have.

Everyone I saw was a return caller, in that they had at some time been to see us before. Given my dismal inability to remember a name or a face, I’m saying, “Have you been to see us before?” and hearing the reply, “Yes – I saw you.” Whoops. Nothing personal. I don’t lie and say something like, “Oh yeah, I remember now” because there’s just no point. Best to just apologise and say, honestly, that I’ve got a crap memory and we may have been busy that day.

I hope that the food bank shortages aren’t going to be indicative of the future. There is no doubt that the cost of living crisis has hit us very hard and there are maybe millions of people who are a big gas bill away from having to see us. And when people are skint, they are perhaps less likely to donate an item to us. And if things are worse still in 2024, you just wonder whether society can cope with the results.  People’s lives are not just worse because of food poverty, they are shorter. People’s health will get worse and NHS, massively underfunded since 2010 will be threatened with collapse. Things, I fear, really are that bad.

See you next year,” the volunteers said to one another as we left the food bank. We’re not going anywhere because, I’m afraid, neither is food poverty.

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