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"If it wasn't for the foodbank I don't know where I'd be"

"If it wasn't for the foodbank I don't know where I'd be"

Monday December 16 2013

Thomas Baldwin charts the rise of foodbanks across Scotland – and the role of churches in distributing aid.

 

As food and energy bills continue to increase and austerity measures bite harder, more and more people are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Often, it is churches that are filling the gap.

The chairman of Falkirk Foodbank is the Rev Stuart Sharp, minister of Camelon Parish Church. “Camelon is an area of multiple deprivation,” he says. “About two years ago I was thinking we needed to do something. Our congregation didn’t feel we could respond on our own, but there is a local evangelical leaders’ forum and it became clear that two or three other guys were thinking the same thing.

“Over about a six to eight month period we got together and decided this was something we needed to do. Initially there were 10 congregations – Church of Scotland, Baptist, Pentecostal, independents, Free Church, everybody – and there are more joining now.

“We can disagree on so many points of theology but we can all agree on a response to the Gospel call to feed the hungry.”

The local authority granted them the premises on a disused industrial estate. Food comes from supermarket collections, individual donations, churches, schools and businesses. At the unit (and next door, and the council have promised them the next unit again if they need it), a team of 50 sorts the donated food and packs it into boxes, enough for three days.

More volunteers then deliver the food to where it’s needed. They also supply a hygiene kit including soap and shampoo, and nappies.

Stuart says: “Everyone we deal with is high priority, somebody who has got nothing. Coming up to our first year of actual operation, so far we have helped 2841 people – it will be over 3000 by the time we reach our anniversary.

“There is no typical client, just as there is no typical person. Every set of circumstances is unique. We try to respond to need without judgement, without assumption.

“We are very humble and grateful that we have this opportunity to serve others, but this is not the sign of a big society. It’s the sign of a society that is fundamentally broken and flawed.”

Despite this, there’s an upbeat atmosphere around the foodbank. Project manager Alf Collington says: “It’s been the best year of my life, I have never done anything as rewarding and humbling as this.”

In contrast to Falkirk, at Blawarthill Parish Church, home of Glasgow NW Foodbank, clients queue up to be given their supplies. There are already people waiting outside half an hour before it opens, and soon there is a steady stream coming into the downstairs part of the church.

The clients are men and women, all ages, some with children. One very elderly couple have a small dog. Each is given their bag of food and offered a free cup of tea and something hot from the church’s café, and volunteers spend time chatting to them and try to help where they can. They have been open since mid-May, and in the first five and a half months gave out food for nearly 1300 people – including 500 children.

The driving force behind the foodbank is a young married couple, Gill and Kyle McCormick, who are members at Blawarthill. Gill (pictured right with a client) says: “I think it was an accident, that we stumbled across the foodbank when we were looking for something to come in downstairs. Then oddly enough the next week it was up in presbytery, and it was something we thought looked worthwhile.”

Like Falkirk and many other foodbanks, this one is run under the aegis of the Trussell Trust, a UK-wide Christian charity. All Trussell Trust foodbanks operate in the same way, with users needing to be referred from agencies including social services, doctors, the police and Jobcentres.

“We would love to be able to give bags of food to everybody, but if we did that by the end of the week our shelves would be empty,” says Kyle.

Two of the volunteers on duty are either past or existing clients of the foodbank. Lorraine, one of the volunteer team leaders, had to give up her job because of illness, which required hospitalisation, and then had to wait three months for benefits because the different agencies couldn’t agree whether she was fit for work.

“I felt so humbled that the foodbank helped me out, so I decided to become a volunteer myself.”

Pamela, who has been unemployed for a year, says she missed one appointment and had the benefits for her and her three children stopped for six weeks. “I was struggling to keep the children fed, and then I was told there was a church that would help.

“I’m not happy about being in a situation where I need to rely on help. I’m dying to get work, I search for jobs constantly. But if it wasn’t for the foodbank I don’t know where I’d be.”

This is an abridged version of the feature from January's Life and Work. Subscribe here.