I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard about the UK foodbank movement in some guise or other. They’ve been a popular, if somewhat controversial media topic; discussed in newspapers, on tv and everything else in between. In short, EVERYONE has been talking about them (aside from the Conservative party government, it seems) and considering the incredible work that they do with people all across the country in their time of crisis, the media storm seems well-deserved.
A report published by the Trussell Trust (the biggest foodbank charity in the UK and the one which Stoke-on-Trent’s foodbank is associated with) in April 2015 showed that foodbank use in the 2014/2015 year topped 1 million people for the first time since they began operating. They managed to help those 1 million people that had been failed by the ConDem government and ensured that adults and children alike didn’t go hungry in their most desperate times with Stoke-on-Trent foodbank supporting 10,371 of those 1 million people.
Stoke-on-Trent foodbank currently has 13 different distribution centres (i.e. venues in which food is given out to our guests) which open at 15 different times each week in locations all across the city. It’s pretty incredible that there are sufficient numbers of volunteers to distribute food for 29 hours every week and it makes me proud to be part of this wonderful organisation.
In an average distribution session, we meet guests with a wide range of different struggles that often go far beyond an immediate hunger. They are invited in for a drink (and often, a rest!) while a volunteer chats with them about their food voucher, along with anything else that we could possibly offer assistance with.Volunteers running around trying to find nappies or blankets or toys is a common sight, as is our front-of-house volunteers signposting our guests to other organisations that may be able to offer them support. Watching the kindness and patience that our volunteers so freely give to every guest that enters our doors makes me want to dance around the room with joy. In many cases, our guests have spent the day as just another number in whatever system has let them down and so the genuine concern and care that Stoke-on-Trent foodbank provides is a welcome, but long overdue, change of pace for a number of our guests.
The other aspect of Stoke-on-Trent foodbank that will never cease to amaze me is the sheer number of donations that it receives from fellow Stokies. Whether it’s faith groups, schools, businesses or just fabulous individuals, the generosity of this city is overwhelming. In the 2014 Harvest period alone, over 12,000kg of food was donated and at the November Tesco food drive, Tesco shoppers who don’t donate regularly to the foodbank collected over 4,500kg of food. Our city goes even further at Christmas and Easter when we are inundated with advent calenders, mince pies and Easter eggs so that no one misses out on the festivity. Clearly, the politics of fear & self-interest that the Tories have tried to encourage is failing here in Stoke-on-Trent; people are not ready to condemn their friends, neighbours and even total strangers with labels like ‘scrounger’ and that is certainly something worth celebrating.
The past 5 years have been cruel for so many people that are struggling to make ends meet and this will certainly be emulated now that the Tories have full reign. I heard on the radio earlier that around 13 million families will be worse off under this government’s budget and yet, as angry as that makes me, Stoke-on-Trent foodbank fills me with confidence that those who are struggling the most in our city will be able to access the help and support that they need. Our government, MPs and leaders can debate foodbanks, whether there’s a need for them and what they achieve all they like. Who cares, they can even continue to refuse to investigate hunger and foodbank usage in the UK and keep denying it’s even a problem. But while they do that, SOT foodbank, The Trussell Trust & a whole host of other hunger & poverty fighting organisations will actually be here doing something, taking the action and meeting the need.
Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank: http://stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk/
The Trussell Trust: http://www.trusselltrust.org/
The “Investigate UK hunger & foodbank usage petition”: numerous posts on http://agirlcalledjack.com/