Foodbank for Thought

I’ve been chatting to a man this morning who has restored my faith in human nature – something which was seriously waning after reaching ‘Day 21’ of the Daily Telegraph’s MPs’ expenses investigation.

Jeremy Ravn is network manager of the UK’s foodbank network, which is run by the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity based in Salisbury. The organisation provides emergency food relief to people in crisis and has just released figures showing it helped a record number of people in the year to April 2009. Its network of 40 foodbanks around the UK, based mainly in the South West of England, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland, helped 24,000 people in 2008/9 compared to 14,000 in the 2007/8 – a 71 per cent increase. This was partly due to 14 new projects being launched during the period but also – sadly – because of growing demand during the recession.

“People come into crisis often because there is a short-term money problem,” explains Ravn. “They have to make a choice between paying a bill and eating, so they go without food.” Through its projects, the charity provides clients with non-perishable food parcels, a hot meal and referral to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Social Services and debt advice agencies. “Let’s not knock the welfare state,” he says when I ask him why the government can’t provide these services. “But it can’t react quickly enough. If you lose your job and you’re on a low income and don’t have any savings or credit [you may struggle]. The Jobcentre crisis loan helpline should provide you with the ability to drawn down money on future benefits, but it’s overwhelmed. You can be on hold for 2 hours. Many of our clients are between a rock and a hard place.”

The foodbank is seeing many people suffering because of the recession. “In places like Swindon and Gloucester where industries are struggling, people have been laid off and others are often on reduced wages. They’re told – ‘Don’t come back to work but here’s a retainer’. But people’s costs don’t come down immediately and going to Social Services takes time, plus many of them can’t claim if they’re still earning something.”

Ravn is also seeing many clients with debt problems. “A lot of people are struggling to meet their debt repayments. These people are under a lot of pressure. Some areas of the population have seen their mortgage payments fall, but it’s the low income people living in social housing or renting [who are experiencing difficulties].”

Many people who visit a foodbank centre are in despair. “A lot of them are in bits,” Ravn admits. “They breakdown and cry because they don’t know what to do and because finally somebody is giving them a listening ear. It’s a bit more than just food that we provide. It’s ‘food plus’. We give them a hot meal as well as the food relief and try to link them with other agencies that can help get them out of the situation.”

The charity’s vision is to see a foodbank in every UK town. But it receives zero government funding and relies on donations from individuals, which are hard to come by in the credit crunch. “The food is provided by local people and we’ve seldom had a problem collecting it,” he says. “People are more aware that others are suffering in the recession. But we are struggling for money donations. Food is not the issue – it’s staff costs, heating and lighting etc.”

After talking to Jeremy Ravn, I am hugely impressed by this resource and the fact that people are prepared to give up their time to help others in this way. But I can’t help feeling sad and angry that we should need it at all in the 21st Century and in a supposedly rich country where we already have a welfare state. Most of all, I’m scratching my head to understand why there is taxpayers’ money to pay for MPs’ kitchen worktops, duck homes, dry rot treatments and bed sheets but nothing available for this charity when its services are obviously so badly needed.

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One Response to Foodbank for Thought

  1. Bill says:

    Hi there, piper!Fantastic weather! I see that gov.uk now intend to "clamp down" on food waste, most of which ends up in the landfill. I have no idea how they intend to do so!I spent some time collecting, & disposing of "Trade Waste" with a 45t vehicle, non of which is allowed in the incinerator, for H & E reasons. I always believed that waste food should be colleted seperately, exclusively for composting. I also spent time "tanking" dairy "byproducts" to large pig farms (factories). The good idea may have been even far better, with Free Range pigs. I saw waste leather tipped in large pits & burnt, it should also have been composted!I question why they overproduce so much mass produced food such as bread etc.?I also remember when shops, cafes, & most housewives would make breadpudding, breadcrumbs etc. from surplus bread & cakes. Surplus sponge cakes, scones etc. were chopped or minced for use in jellies & blancmanges etc. I gave up peelling spuds/veg long ago, I cannot afford to waste my time on such futile excercises, or finance the 10% waste spud. I simply scrub them under the cold tap. In yesteryear, all spud/veg peelings were boiled together for use as poultry/pig-feed. Sadly cafes, butchers or housewives are no longer allowed to keep pigs, or even poultry, on the premises. I am not even allowed a window box! The home office even took my various pots of herbs off the kitchen window-sill, clearly a tesco "product", on the suspicion that I, a non-drinker/non-smoker, was guilty of growing my own dope!I also buy most food at half price, on the sell buy date, with the exception of fish. Even alone, I am easily able to consume the food before it becomes dangerous, or even slightly blemished. I do not buy excessive quantities, in the hope that prices will drop before the next purchase. I only purchase/drink skimmed milk, & on rare occassions that a small measure "turns" on me, I leave it in peace in the fridge until the wey clarifies, similar to a good wine. Then I add a good pinch of sea-salt, give it a good shake in order to crumble the cheese into small pieces, pour through a fine strainer to drain the wey, tip the cheese into a bowl with a small measure of black pepper, sweet red paprika, chives, chopped parsley, etc. Do not overmix.Years ago, second hand dried tea-leaves were mixed into rolling baccy, in the hope of stretching the baccy slighly further.Small pieces of soap were pressed together, & used on damp, heavily soiled clothes etc., before soaking. some of the "waste" soap was dissolved in watering cans, for spraying over any form of brassicas etc., to keep insects off the crops. It also kept marauding snails etc. at bay. Used laudry & bath water was also used for a similar purpose. I most of it from my parents/grandparents, back in the 50\’s.As an ex Transport Technician, I have never seen a Group 2 driver of any nationality drop litter, despite living long periods, even months in a small steel box. We always carry a large supermarket carrier for our litter, & then dispose of it in an equally large litter bin. With so little "living/work" space, we need tgo keep it clean & tidy at all times, millitary fashion. Many of us have done some form of service. As a result we are extremely well disciplined. We need to be, in order to share the tarmac, our work-place, with many of those who have a death-wish, in their grossly over-powered dinky toys.I do not ask anyone to pick my litter/clear my mess, & have no intention of clearing theirs!Every puppy/kitten is house-trained by their own mother even before than can see, even pigs are house-trained/disciplined by their own mother, long before weaning. We would do well to return to nature.

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