Part one of an in-depth look at foodbanks and how the church can help.
Read part two of this two part series - Half a Million Rely on Foodbanks part two.
“BRITAIN is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry. Half a million people have visited foodbanks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.” These words are part of a letter written and signed by 27 Anglican bishops, together with leaders of various non-conformist groups and published in the Daily Mirror on 19 February.
The letter continues, “we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions...“ The letter finished with an appeal to the government, “to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”
Photo taken by 'Bread for the World' on Flickr
Controversy rages: is it a rise in real
need which is causing the huge increase of people using foodbanks or is it merely the recent publicity given to foodbanks giving rise to their increased use?
A government report published by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 20 February concludes that there is a “growing demand for emergency food because of increased need.”
Ann Hawker is Services Manager at Coventry Jesus Centre which runs weekday services for disadvantaged people with a mission statement, “to express the love of Jesus daily in worship, friendship and help for every kind of person.”
Ann has been heading up the food bank at Coventry Jesus Centre for just over three years. She answers a few questions:
- Coventry Jesus Centre runs a foodbank. Why?
We have been giving out free food parcels at the Jesus Centre since 2006. In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in food poverty, spreading out from what have been the more conventionally needy people to a wider range of the population. Foodbank provision both here and elsewhere has grown with the need.
- How does foodbank operate?
In 2011 we decided to come under the banner of the national Trussell Trust franchise in order to become a foodbank distribution centre. We felt this would enable us to reach a wider range of people; the Trussell Trust organises foodbanks via a referral procedure through official agencies working with individuals; we felt this would help us more effectively focus on genuine need.
Agencies dealing with people affected by food poverty can apply to the Trussell Trust to be authorised to give out vouchers. Once issued with a voucher, individuals have to present this at a foodbank distribution point within three days.
Those manning distribution points check the date and validity of the vouchers. Foodbanks operating under the banner of the Trussell Trust limit food parcels to three per 12 months, except under exceptional circumstances and any previous number of redeemed vouchers are checked via a central website.
- What happens when someone arrives at the Jesus Centre food bank?
Voucher holders are welcomed with a cup of tea or coffee and given an interview by one of our volunteers to check appropriate food will be given, e.g. do they need halal meat or food suitable for coeliacs or diabetics and so on. Food parcels vary in size according to whether they are for individuals, small or larger families. Some centres provide fresh food like bread and vegetables; we have limited storage capacity and concentrate on tinned and packaged food.
Volunteers sit around and chat to voucher holders while they wait for food parcels to be made up and take the opportunity to sign-post them to other helpful agencies and perhaps explain services run at the Jesus Centre that may benefit them.
Most people are genuinely grateful for the service and help provided.
- When does foodbank operate?
Foodbank operates at the Jesus Centre on Tuesday afternoons from 2.00pm-4.00pm. It is just one of several foodbanks distribution centres in Coventry; at least one of them is open every day of the week (including weekends).
- Where does the food for foodbank come from?
Both local businesses and the public donate food. We also have foodbank collections at local supermarkets. We have found that many people in Coventry are very generous. Recently, someone who has formerly used food bank bought us a donation of food.
- How many and what kinds of people use foodbank?
A large range of people. Quite a number of low income working families us
Photo taken by The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project on Flickr
e foodbank. Often, such families are just keeping their heads above water in the normal course of life but an extra expense such as a household repair occurs which they just can’t afford it; also, wages for low earners are simply not keeping up with the increased cost of living (food prices in particular have risen).
However, the largest single group of foodbank users are those affected by benefit delays or sanctions; the criteria set by the government for job-seekers is very rigid and some people fail to comply for various reasons. In some parts of the country, the maximum benefit entitlement of £500 has severely impacted households with large families; fortunately this is not a large problem in Coventry. Those referred to us by Citizens Advice Bureau are often facing debt problems.
People from various nationalities use foodbank but predominately they are white British.
Food bank at Coventry Jesus Centre gave out 313 foodbank parcels in 2012 and 523 in 2013. In addition, we gave out 367 food parcels to rough sleepers during these two years.
- Why, as a church, do you think it is important to take part in foodbank?
According to the Bible, providing food to the hungry and shelter to people without homes or in a foreign country is very high on God’s agenda. It’s all about human dignity and value: if someone is hungry, that is what they focus on and often they can’t even begin to think of the fulfilment of their life goals or their deeper spiritual needs. Offering a service to meet basic needs gives one an opportunity to share the good news about Jesus in words as well as action. There is also an opportunity to pray with people if this is what they want.
Part two to follow: an afternoon in the life of a food bank in Coventry. Julia Faire talks to a foodbank volunteer co-ordinator, Malcolm Lambert, and three foodbank service users.
What is the Trussell Trust?
The Trussell Trust is a UK-based Christian charity describing itself as, “non-judgemental and inclusive, providing assistance to people of all backgrounds and all faiths or none, who are found to be in genuine need.” To find out more go to www.trusselltrust.org