By Claudia Heywood
I'm elbowing my way out of the small outdoor cupboard labelled ‘Box Scheme’ in a dark pub car park, muddy carrots and clumsy cauliflower leaves busting out of my inadequate bag. I have quite a repertoire of soup recipes, and determination as gritty as the vegetables themselves, but my children may still not eat them. Fortunately, I’ve never actually had to send them to bed hungry.
I’ve just delivered a reference for a friend who wants to volunteer for Faversham Foodbank. The irony is not lost on me. Increased demand for local, unpackaged organic vegetables has resulted in more suppliers and, consequently, I’m only paying £1 more for my box than I did 20 years ago. I’m lucky to be able to afford to make a few ethical choices. But it’s a chilling fact that an ever-growing number of people in this country simply can’t afford to put food on the table. The system has failed to allow its citizens to afford even the basic necessities.
In 1997 the Trussell Trust, founded by Carol and Paddy Henderson, from a legacy left by Betty Trussell, Carol’s mother, concentrated on supporting children sleeping rough at Bulgaria’s Central Railway Station. In 2000, a direct appeal from a local woman struggling to feed her children prompted Paddy to research UK poverty data. It indicated that sudden crisis led to people going hungry. He gathered emergency supplies to feed a family for three days, launching the first (Salisbury) food bank. Twenty years on, there are 428 food banks affiliated to the Trussell Trust in the UK, a shocking, if not surprising figure.
Faversham Foodbank was established in 2014 and this year we’re hearing a lot more about it. The pandemic has turned many lives upside down and, in the period from 1st April to almost the end of November 2020, 1,231 people have required its support. The increase of 51.4% over the similar period in 2019 is understandable, but figures from pre-coronavirus days are significant too. 1,573 people were fed by the Faversham Foodbank between April 2019 and March 2020.
So who actually uses foodbanks and how do you access them? Is it embarrassing, arduous or challenging to seek their support? What range of essentials do they provide? While many of us donate (and many more intend to), are we actually providing useful items? We all have childhood recollections of boringly practical Harvest Festival donations, with something a little more luxurious at Christmas. Does it work like that? Are there other ways we can help? I don’t know enough about this and I suspect I’m not alone.
In today’s world, anyone can find themselves falling on hard times. People don’t need to read tweets from insensitive thrifters who boast they can feed themselves healthily on a mere £1 a day. And they certainly don’t need the thinly veiled disapproval from those superior types who point out, uselessly, that education, restraint and budgeting might help matters.
Faversham Foodbank is at pains to state that it is a non-judgmental, non-religious body. It exists simply to address the basic needs of anyone in crisis who cannot afford sufficient food. As well as being provided with a nutritionally balanced three-day emergency box, clients are signposted to relevant agencies that can provide long-term assistance.
Attitudes towards homelessness are increasingly sympathetic these days; high-profile stories about ex-soldiers have helped heighten our awareness. We need to ensure people are equally understanding about food poverty. Absolutely anyone can face a health issue that makes work impossible, with the inevitable delay in the receipt of any benefits. An essential domestic repair can exhaust available funds. And, if you aren’t in the fortunate position of owning your own property, it’s unlikely a landlord will be patient. The Trussell Trust has found that people referred to foodbanks have on average £50 per week left for food, bills and clothing after finding their rent.
Happily, it is straightforward to access the support provided by Faversham Foodbank. The Facebook page links you to their webpage which explains a voucher system: local agencies, including Age UK, the Community Centre and many primary schools, as well as Swale Borough Council and several churches, can assess individual cases and provide vouchers redeemable at the bank, based at the Gospel Mission Hall.
Direct appeals to the foodbank would result, initially, in referral to the relevant local agency, invaluable for long-term poverty management.
Last year the Trussell Trust found that half the people using their foodbanks had money taken by government from benefit payments during economic crisis. It’s a disgraceful fact and offers a useful perspective. Inadequate provision is the real source of the problem. The trust’s vision, simply, is ‘for a UK without the need for foodbanks’
Their five-year strategic plan is outlined on their website and lists ways in which the public can help.
The press release from the foodbank’s AGM of 25th November warmly acknowledges the absolutely essential support of the local community, notably families and small artisan bakeries that somehow manage to coordinate charitable donations as well as seeing to their own concerns. Primary schools have responded magnificently to Christmas appeals for donations, and supermarkets have strengthened their support and now helpfully inform and encourage their customers - for example, Faversham Morrisons now has a stand containing Foodbank Grab Bags right next to the entrance to the store. The accusing finger points to a government that has failed to provide and gives weight to the ultimate aim of the Trussell Trust once again.
As I write this, self-isolating, bored, under-exercised but well fed, and reassured that, as a public servant, my wage will continue to be paid. I can’t even imagine the uncertainty of a life without that security. A massive round of applause for Faversham Foodbank for stepping up to provide support to those not so fortunate; those who set it up, run it, and all those who continue to support it.
It sounds trite to suggest a like on Facebook, but it could be the start of a beautiful friendship!
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FOODBANK
Closer to home and immediately practical, how can we in Faversham support our local foodbank in these extremely challenging times?
Find and like Faversham Foodbank, this will be obvious to your friends
Invite friends to like the page
Check the constantly updated list of items needed
Christmas Foodbank Grab Bags in Faversham Morrisons.
Cash: standing order or one-off cash donation forms are both downloadable from the webpage.
Host a fundraiser
• The webpage has a downloadable fundraising booklet including various ideas
The foodbank continues to welcome and train volunteers (who help with organising warehouse supplies, coordinating vouchers and meeting with clients at the centre). Staff would like to point out, however, that social distancing guidelines have led to an inevitable delay in the training process.