There has been so much controversy and discussion over the last few weeks around foodbanks, free school meals, Covid Assistance etc. In March I started volunteering at my local foodbank two afternoons a week. I really enjoy being around other people and it also made me feel that I was doing something worthwhile.
There are so many people in need of assistance these days and thee foodbank provides a really good service to people who need it. People can end up needing help from a foodbank or similar service for all sorts of reasons. It may be that their personal circumstances have changed leaving them struggling financially. They may have difficulty with mental health issues, disability or addiction. This year has been particularly bad, with people losing their jobs or having lower incomes due to furlough .
I have met people who have been embarrassed to find themselves at a foodbank for the first time in their lives and apologising for needing assistance. I have met young people who find themselves living alone without any support from their families and finding it impossible to keep to any sort of plan or budget. I have put food parcels together for people fleeing domestic violence who are living in hotel rooms.
Yes there will be those that know how to play the system and take advantage. There are those who may not prioritise food for their families. There are those that may have come too reliant on assistance and may not ever be able to mange on their own.
Whatever the reason being someone needing this type of assistance, I don’t feel I am in any position to judge.
Never Gone To Bed Hungry
I realise that I am in a very privileged position having never really known hunger. As a child, our family weren’t particularly well off, but we always had food on the table. Dad would hand over his wage to my mum each week and she had a tin with slots in for all the different bills. We always had money for food. My mum tells me that there was a short period of time when my brothers had free school meals when my dad was off work, but I certainly can’t remember this. The only time we ever went to bed hungry was if you had been naughty and got sent to bed without supper, although my brother informed me recently that he kept a stash of food in his room just for those particular moments!
I also know that my children have never known real hunger. They have had three square meals a day throughout their lives. Even after my eldest daughter left home for university, she always knew that we would help her out with either money or a few bags of food when she came to visit.
I know that I over eat. My meals are generally healthy but I top that up on a far too regular basis with sweets, crisps, biscuits, chocolate and baked goods. I also buy too much food, waste too much food and have the privilege of being picky about which brands I choose.
So What’s The Challenge?
At the foodbank, we have sometimes discussed whether we would manage on the food that the service users receive. The food is mostly tinned, dried or long shelf life. It is the staple things that most people have in their store cupboards. We also are really lucky that we receive donations of fresh food which allows us to give out fresh food alongside the staples. The food is expected to last for a week.
So I have decided to set myself a challenge of living for a month on the food that I would receive if I relied on a food bank. I’ve not done this to prove that it can be done, but to understand the harsh realities of people who are really struggling to make ends meet.
Armed with the standard list, I went to the supermarket today and bought the items (thought I’d better clarify that I didn’t take them from the foodbank!) Luckily today in the foodbank we also had a few fresh items, so I added those to my list too, to give a true reflection of what I would have received had I needed a food parcel today. My challenge will start tomorrow morning and the food should last me for a week. I am hoping to continue the challenge for four weeks.
I will update you next week on how I have got on. I will be honest if I have waivered, cheated or just given in altogether.
The whole point of this is to raise awareness around food poverty and the work of foodbanks and other similar services. I want people to think about the amount of money they spend on food and to count their blessings that they don’t have to wonder where their next meal is coming from.
I would also like you to consider making a donation to your local foodbank. You can donate food, toiletries, cleaning products, feminine hygiene products or cold hard cash. If you’re unsure what to donate, contact your local food bank and ask them what they need.
As one of my daughter’s friends posted on twitter recently : “You’re a lot closer to having to use food banks than you are to doing your weekly shopping at Harrods”