Tales from the food bank (58)

by Rick Johansen

I thought it was my lucky day today when we were told a member of Melchester’s NHS Talking Therapies was going to be with us. There IS a God after all and this was my reward for helping to feed the world. Indeed, no one could be more deserving than me. But he wasn’t there for me at all. He was with us to help people whose mental health was being ravaged by having to endure food poverty.

All joking aside – and trust me, having a laugh often keeps the wolf, or in my case the Black Dog, from the door – I was grateful for his presence. Because the mental health consequences of being in food poverty must be severe. You have no money, no food and you are attending a food bank without which, theoretically, you might starve to death. It can’t be good for anyone. physically or mentally.

I didn’t get the chance to talk to him at the start of today’s session because I was too busy seeing people. As I have said before, I am essentially one of the meeters and greeters who find out what people want from us and today we set off at breakneck speed. We seemed to have more stock in today, after last week’s session where we were missing a substantial number of items in our store room. Having said that, we remain at full capacity and had anyone turned up without a referral, we would have had to take what Rishi Sunak might describe as a “difficult decision” to turn them away. (In case you are wondering, in politics, a “difficult decision” is one that involves making poor people poorer.)

Anyway, all our callers turned up on time or even early and, for the first time in my role as an heroic martyr, we shut up shop early. It was only then I managed to have a chat with our guest therapist.

Tempting though it was to wallow in a pool of self-pity and tell him about my own issues – “I had such an unhappy childhood, you know?” – I decided to listen to him instead. You tend to learn more that way, believe it or not.

Bizarrely, I found myself apologising to our therapist for the food bank being so quiet for his visit. “This was quiet?” he asked. “I wouldn’t like to have seen it when it was busy.” Quick as a flash, I stopped myself saying, “Well, you should have been here for Christmas and the New Year and actually most of 2023, then, when it was a lot busier than this”, but in truth his point was well made. I suppose it’s all about perception. We have some insanely busy days, followed by a quieter day. Because we’re not working so hard, it doesn’t mean we’re not working at all.

Having long completed my half century of food bank sessions, I’m still amazed that we live in a country that does so little about food poverty. Is it because people don’t care, that there is compassion fatigue or that our country is so broken that we don’t think there is anything that can be done about it? In general terms, I think we do care, or most of us anyway, that many people have been dragged into near poverty as a result of government incompetence but that there is a massive disconnect between Sunak’s government and the lumpen proletariat.

For all that, I still look forward to Thursday’s at the Melchester food bank, not least because I am doing something positive to counter the effects of Sunak’s awful government. This is a particularly awful government and that’s saying something after having had Cameron, May. Johnson and Truss before. Sunak could be the worst yet. Just imagine being worse than that lot?

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