I began this week with an assembly in one of Sunderland’s schools. The children had been collecting for our food bank, and the head teacher felt it would be good for them to find out how the gifts were used.
So we talked about how a balanced diet works and how to put together a healthy food parcel. ‘Our job’, I said, ‘Is to collect food from good hearted people and give it away to people who need it’. This is exactly what food banks do.
Some of my friends appreciate what we are doing, but others are sceptical. ‘Aren’t these people just having you on?’ ‘They are getting their food from you and spending their cash on booze and drugs!’ Are just some of the comments I get.
The numbers tell a different story. Last year we gave out almost 500 food parcels. About 90% of these people visited us two or three times – during a major crisis – then we never saw them again. The crisis was over. They were not scroungers, but people who had been sanctioned, or waiting very long times for the DSS to change their benefit arrangements.
About 10% of these people visited more regularly, and over a longer period of time. This was because they had a longer term problem, often to do with mental illness. For these folks, the world is more aware of their problems but not more supportive.
No doubt a few people scam us. We don’t care; we would rather be conned by one person than fail to meet the needs of someone who is in a real crisis. Why? Because of Jesus, who said; ‘Give to everyone who asks you…’ Most food banks are run by people who follow Jesus.
None of this is new. When I was a kid growing up in Sunderland in the 1950s we didn’t have foodbanks, but we did have ‘tick’; if my mam couldn’t pay for her groceries the shopkeeper would igve us the food 'on tick' and accept payment after pay day. No paperwork, just a promise.
Communities have changed but the needs are the same. Foodbanks are here to stay – for a while at least.