Perhaps even two years ago I had never actually heard of such a thing as a “Food Bank”, and even then, despite growing financial difficulties, I would not have expected to need it.
However, times change — albeit in a more or less predictable direction, in many cases — and I have since joined the percentage of the population that does need to use food banks.
Three times now I have visited the People Before Profit Food Bank on New Cross Road, south east London. I signed up as a member with a minimal donation (£1) which I pay again each time I visit, with an occasional added contribution of spare change. The food available is rationed, but not to the extent that I am unable to take away a substantial supply of canned soups and pulses, loaves of bread, loose vegetables and fruit. I can also obtain toothpaste from time to time!
This usually tides me over from the end of a two-week period, when money is short, until the next Monday/Tuesday when benefit payments arrive.
The question of being dependent on benefits is of central importance here: delays in receiving payments and gaps in claim periods frequently result in many people nearing the end of a two-week cycle without cash or credit to purchase essential items, such as groceries.
I recently visited the local food bank with a view toward obtaining groceries for a housemate who, though employed full-time, was told that he would have another 8/9 days to wait before he could expect to receive his regular wage. This can be critical when allowing for the fact that monthly rental and utility bill payments sometimes coincide around the end of a month.
I suspect some people may be a little too proud to visit such places, when they are not officially welfare-dependent and, obviously, if they are working full time it may not be convenient or feasible to visit directly in person. I was happy enough to act as a proxy on this recent occasion, although I had to use the food bank in any case for my own reasons.
The staff are sympathetic and helpful but, reminding me that they rely on donations, they have to dedicate Fridays to restocking their shelves; this when many users would be most impulsively inclined to shop for the weekend ahead. [Also, a registered user/member is restricted to one visit per week, normally].
Food banks provide an important lifeline so long as you are au fait with their rules and routines.
But how did it get to the point where, in one of the richest economies in the world, thousands upon thousands (I don’t know the exact figure) depend on this type of service, essentially provided by volunteers?