An honest look at #FoodBanks 14


As you might have gathered, I am annoyed by the recent bad press related to the Trussell Trust and food banks after The Daily Fail wrote that article. So annoyed I visited my local food bank and not only donated some items, but spent some time talking to the staff at Gloucester food bank. The Fail is way off, these people are lovely, and kind, and well, brilliant. The first thing I want to say is that Gloucester food bank gets no government level help – it is a charity that relies on kind donations and volunteered time.

glosfoodbank

It is a smallish building, but well used. Shelves were stacked with items that families in need would love. It was organised by type of product, and dates. Bulkier items had whole shelves to themselves, and smaller bits were in labelled cardboard boxes used like draws. I met lovely volunteers who I saw “picking” orders, much like the online shopping teams in supermarkets do. The picking lists are lists of what each parcel must contain as a minimum – the essentials if you will – UHT milk, breakfast cereals, tinned food and so on. I also noticed a lot of toiletries – this is because people who can not afford to buy food aren’t going to spend a few pounds on shampoo or toothpaste before food, but by giving these basics with the parcels its like giving dignity back to the clients.

I had heard about the trust giving toiletries as an extra treat in parcels after reading lots about Trussell Trust following that Fail article, so I popped in to the pound shops and bought 2 travel toiletry sets for a pound as that emptied my purse, I had also cleared my bathroom cupboard of anything unopened. I know, I know, soap won’t feed anyone BUT these are extras in a parcels, and don’t mean that client is missing out on anything food wise. The main parcel is based on a strict nutritional list, to make sure the parcel is at least 3 days of a balanced, healthy diet. There is no point giving someone 15 tins of beans and some milk, yes it would be eaten if hungry enough but its not good to just eat one thing. Food banks want to help people, not give them tummy aches.

Believe it or not, they have a shopping list, and it is mainly cheap items they aren’t getting enough of! These won’t be the entire parcel, but some things like baked beans and soup are always over stocked so they request the items they are lowest on. Things my local food bank needed are:

Shopping list

Long life (UHT) milk,

Long life fruit juice,

Tinned meat, (corned beef, ham etc)

Packet mash,

Tinned rice pudding,

Tinned fish,

Sugar,

Weetabix or similar,

Toothpaste and brushes,

Shower gel,

Shampoo.

 

The thing that I liked best was the “recipe packs“. There was a shelf full of pre-bagged meals – donated tins and packets carefully put together with recipes on how to make a set meal with it, mainly using the items that aren’t on the set picking lists. Lasagne, chill con carne, and Salmon & noodles were some of the packs I saw, each one with a printed out recipe and a use by date in pen on that. Even when bagged up like this they are super careful about dates, which was fabulous to see really, from my days working in a shop I know how much is wasted by lack of stock rotation. That won’t happen here! I asked what would happen if perishable items came in, and I was told “we won’t turn the donation away (as long as it is in date) but it would get given straight away to the next clients that come in and it would be in addition to the food parcel they were going to receive”. So they can’t store fruit, veg or other fresh items but it would still get given out.

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Everything is weighed on the way in as it is donated, so they keep track on how much help has passed through there doors. I thought how odd, why is it weighed in? But statistics are handy to work out the scale of a problem – weight is easier to work out than prices and super fast too. Gloucester food bank handed out 35 tonnes of food to feed 4767 people, which included 1677 children in the 2013/2014 year. The top 3 reasons these people needed help were benefit delays 37.5%, benefit changes 19.3% and low income at 14.9%. Sadly I can relate to the benefit changes bit, I am currently awaiting an ATOS assessment myself, and until then I am in limbo, having been classed as unemployable by medical professionals. This doesn’t stop me wanting to be a helpful member of society however, nor does it make me a scrounger. I still have my morals and importantly my dignity and compassion.

Having grown up in a bad situation myself I know poverty – I remember being on the receiving end of charity, not the giving side. I remember getting food parcels, presents at Christmas, and the best thing ever – days out with other poor families – this bit sounds trivial, but when your parents have no money you don’t socialise at all – this helped with self esteem and gave happy memories not just sad ones. Unless you’ve been there you might not appreciate how much a little box/bag of food means to people who are struggling. The video towards the end of this post might help you understand.

As a teenager after leaving home I clearly remember not eating towards the end of each fortnight, waiting until benefits day, I was in an area of high unemployment – there was no work. I learnt drinking lots of cups of tea tricks you into feeling less hungry, and I would take wild fruit from hedgerows, I even resorted to “dumpster diving” and used to go round the back of Safeway’s to gather up unsellable items, normally bread and veggies due to the shorter shelf life. I wouldn’t recommend doing this these days as its criminal, if there had been a food bank near me in those days I would be there not stealing scraps.

Stratford food bank

My mother doesn’t seem to remember it the same as me, as she said we never went to bed hungry, but we did. Although I am not “well off” or in any way “rich” these days I would give help to anyone who asks really. I’m not a Saint, and I can’t regularly give to any charity but I waste as little as possible, not just food but everything. Anything I can’t use I try to recycle, upcycle, give away via Freecycle or give to charity shops. Now I have somewhere else to donate to – our local food bank! If we buy something on a cheap offer to try it, then dislike it, whatever is still unopened will go to the food bank. When you buy a multipack of something, and dislike one of the flavours in that pack, save the odds for the food bank. If something is genuinely nasty, or off please dispose of it – I only mean share things you personally dislike. Say you bought a 4 pack of chopped tomatoes with herbs, but decide they do not work for your spag-bol, or contains a herb you hate pass along the other 3 tins.
If I notice something heavily reduced in a shop ( for example discontinued items that still have long dates on them rather than short dated “reduced to clear” things) I might now be buying it just to give to the food bank as clever shopping means you can make a difference for less cash. I have many times bought Christmas packaged items for pence in January with months remaining on the “best befores” simply because its classed as old.

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Click to see this bigger

If donating food is not something you wish to do, you can donate money online, or Text FBUK13 plus the amount £1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10 to 70070 e.g. text “FBUK13 £5″ to 70070 to donate a fiver. Thankfully the Daily Fail article back-fired. The cash and food donations have increased massively, with donations currently at just over £60 thousand. This makes me so happy.

The Gloucester food bank did have 2 donations/grants from parish councils to help towards staff training (but these were back in 2012 and were for £1000 and £2000). This is very little support really considering average client numbers have shot up from 2250 to 4767 last year. That is a massive jump. So do you have anything in your cupboards you bought on a whim? Something you’ve got bored of and still have 5 jars of it? Something you bought in error and you lost the receipt for it? Is it in date, safe to eat and unopened? Donate it! Find your local Trussell Trust food bank, or just google “food bank YOUR-TOWN”. They won’t judge you for giving just 2 tins of something, it all gets used.

Things the food bank don’t want…
Out of date food – we are in an age where people sue “good samaritans”.
Perishable food – try freecycle to give it away. Someone will probably accept it but unless a client is there at the right time the food banks might have to bin it.
Dented/bashed tins. You can’t tell if the contents are damaged, Elf und safety.
Opened items. They can’t guarantee its safe.
Items that don’t have BBE dates. For example sometimes multipacks only have dates on the outer wrapper, not the individual packets.
Alcohol.

These rules might seem daft but think about it, they can’t risk making people ill. Any food that is expired please compost or put into a council “food waste” recycling bin scheme. Just think “would I feed this to my neighbour?” rather than “desperate people will eat any old scraps” which isn’t right and isn’t cool at all.
Imagine getting a food bank voucher from a professional, after what could be an embarrassingly awkward confession that you can’t feed yourself, then you walk to a food bank, just to discover when you get home that things are out of date. I wouldn’t want to have choose between feeding out of date food to my family or eating nothing. Sadly that is worse than no help, it would be extra “guilt” as that person has to risk the health of loved ones and themselves or bin food whilst hearing the kids tummies growling.

If you want shopping suggestions it might be worth looking at my list in made on a supermarkets website. This basket would be £9.33. The main items I was told they need are carton fruit juice and long life milk. So please include these, they go in every parcel.

Here is an idea, if you’ve not ever done online shopping at supermarkets like Tesco, Asda or Sainsburys you can often get codes for money off of your first spend as a brand new customer. For example £15 off of a £60 spend – maybe do your normal shopping then add £15 extra of non-perishables just for the food banks?

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