by Alison Wray.
A food bank is a non-profit, charitable organisation that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger. The first food bank was founded in the U.S.A in 1967 and there was little need for them in the United Kingdom then, due to our Welfare System, but they have grown in numbers since 2004 and again after the economic crisis of 2008 followed by the years of austerity measures.
The main provider here is the Trussell Trust which is a Christian charity based in Salisbury. In 2004 the trust ran 2 food banks and by 2014 this number had risen to 252.
From April 2019 – September 2019 the Trussell Trust provided 832,145 emergency parcels and figures for April 2020 show an 89% increase compared to last April.
This increase followed the Coronavirus lockdown, leading to workers being furloughed or being made redundant. With schools being closed many children were affected as there were no school meals. There was a huge rise in parcels for families with children.
Food banks work with referral agencies who issue food vouchers to those in crisis to provide provisions to last for one week. These are non- perishable items tailored to the number of people in a household. Donations of food from individuals, supermarkets, restaurants, religious organisations and schools are collected in warehouses, packed into bags or boxes and distributed around the area.
Since retiring I started to volunteer at my local food bank and became aware of how important and necessary it was for many people. I was also astonished at the generosity of those who donated.
I realise that during the Pandemic and after we emerge from lockdown the need for food banks will be huge when we are faced with increased homelessness and unemployment for several years. At the same time there is likely to be a decrease in the donation rate as many people will be less able to be so generous.
There has to be scope to improve and enlarge the service provided and an effort to remove the stigma for people who need to rely temporarily on its supplies.
Could supermarkets help by increasing the space allocated for foodstuffs close to sell by dates at a reduced cost or free of charge. This could augment the supplies provided by the food bank and introduce fresh fruit and vegetables.
Could allotment owners donate and display excess fruit and vegetables or could unused or untended allotments be made available for a small community projects. Perhaps a bartering system, work in exchange for goods could be introduced.
The requirement for food bank use will increase with the summer months when all children are not at school receiving school lunches and people will need to rely on help for more extended periods
During the Pandemic many individual groups from small charities who have been collecting and distributing food to vulnerable people and frontline workers could find a way to centralise their efforts in tandem with food banks.
Many volunteers are elderly and some are shielding at this time so volunteers may have to be enlisted from other sources.
We are certainly going to face a very changed world in the next few months with many vulnerable people in our communities to be considered and as a well-known supermarket says ‘every little helps’.
Photograph (c) Nicola Denley https://www.instagram.com/nicadenley/