30 June 2013

Warrington Foodbank

I've recently started volunteering at our local foodbank. Foodbanks have been opening up across the country to help bridge the gaps, supporting people in crisis situations. The Warrington Foodbank opened it's doors in December, and helped over 700 people in the just the first couple of months - and the demand is increasing.

The Warrington foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust, which offers support and guidance for groups looking to start their own foodbanks. Technically it is a Christian organisation, but that's not a requirement for volunteers or recipients. I'm very uncomfortable with charity that is offered with conditions, whether that be in the form of religious lectures or required beliefs - I can happily say that I've never seen anything to concern me at the Foodbank. The volunteers I've met simply try to offer help and kindness without judgement.
I've been volunteering at the Foodbank distribution centre, which is held at Friars Green Church. The Foodbank holds two hour sessions five days a week where people can come and collect their food parcels.

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about how the Foodbank works. People can't just walk in off the street for a food parcel. Instead red vouchers are given out by places like Job Centres, Sure Start and CAB, to people they know to be in a crisis situation. These vouchers are intended to be a stop gap for people trapped in limbo while waiting for long term help. Though I obviously can't give you any specific examples, many people have been effected by the government abolishing crisis loans, the new benefit sanctions and the recent benefit changes.

When people arrive at the Foodbank they hand over their red voucher card to one of the volunteers and are invited to sit down at one of the tables. We offer them a drink and some biscuits and someone sits down to chat with them, while other volunteers assemble their food parcel.
Below is the room where volunteers pick the items for each food parcel. The red vouchers tell us how many people are in the family, which helps us select the right picking slip. Each parcel should provide three days of nutritionally balanced food for each person. Most of the food is donated by the public, which can make it a bit of a challenge.  We had a jar of Christmas mince pie filling hanging around for months before we found someone who could use it!
There's often two or three volunteers picking tickets at the same time, which makes this room a bit of a squeeze. The shelves are organised by type and follow the order of the picking ticket. We start behind the glass door and then work our way around the room.

Off the top of my head, a single person may get:
  • A small box of cereal
  • 2 cans soup
  • 2 cans baked beans
  • 2 cans of tomatoes or pasta sauce
  • 2 cans of meat (including things like cans of curry)
  • 1 can of fish
  • 2 small cans of vegetables
  • 2 small cans of fruit
  • 1 package of Jelly or Angel Delight
  • 1 pack of rice or pasta
  • 500g of Sugar
  • Tea or Coffee
  • 1 small pack of biscuits
  • 1 ltr milk
  • 1 ltr of juice
If we have some available, we may add instant cup-of-soups, extra baked beans, toiletries if needed and loo roll.
We aren't allowed to give out expired or damaged foods in the parcels, so items that expire before we can distribute them are placed on a table where the recipients are welcome to take them if they wish.
Personally I'm very angry that foodbanks are necessary in modern Britain - I'm even angrier that David Cameron will consider the foodbank an example of his "Big Society"! It's frustrating that the Tories will use the foodbanks as a reason to ignore the problems they are creating, hoping that they will simply disappear.

But I try to take comfort in that we ourselves and the Trussel Trust are acting as witnesses to these hardships. We hear people's stories and the Trussel Trust publishes statistics that will hopefully hold the government to account in the future.