Saturday, 27 July 2013

Do you run a Foodbank?

This is a question I have been asked many times, here is my answer..

I run the Jericho Road Project which houses homeless people, feeds the hungry and defends those who have no voice!

We have though chosen not to do a Foodbank. These have become the thing to do for churches and projects like mine.  Foodbanks have had national publicity and significant political support.  A system that allows agencies in the locality to give out vouchers to those in need to get an emergency handout must be great! well I am not convinced that Foodbanks are that good for the poor!

Before I give my reasons for not doing a Foodbank let me say that we DO give out food to people who are destitute.  We collect harvest food from schools but we only give to it to people and families who have NO income or in extreme circumstances.   We have a local social worker who uses our supply of food to help a family who have at times no other source of food. But in order to keep the food for those who are destitute we have to say no to many people who want a 'hand-out'.  For example I refused to give any food to a man who gets full benefit and has a freedom card for London transport (free travel) despite his well practised tale of sorrow!  I would rather help in ways other than a food hand-out.  He didn't like it but he comes back every week and has started to help out at the end of the evening! He will benefit more by helping others than by begging for food!

3 key reasons why I do not run a Foodbank.

1. The people providing the food are not building relational connection with the person in need. The connection is a helper and recipient one.  I understand the aim/limit is for people to make 3 collections of food but it seems that people in 'need' learn how to make the best use of the system by sending others to get food in their place.
2. The recipient is not lifted up out of poverty.  Their immediate needs are being met, food on the table tonight, but it does not address the medium/longer term needs or the more complex and difficult issues!  Perhaps in some cases a connection is made or referrals are made to the relevant place that can help, such as debt advice.
3. I have read press releases, been to Foodbank's and statistics are given out that demonstrate how the demand for food has gone up and that means that there needs to be more Foodbanks.  Firstly public awareness means more people will make sure they get a free hand-out but of course the statistics are going up when the government are creating more people who have to 'beg' for food.  Their strategy for dealing with people who don't /are not able meet their standards is to suspend people's benefit for months at a time.  They can only do this  and get away with it with a rapidly expanding food charity sector picking up the shortfall. 

Last Wednesday highlighted the problem really well.  A lady who should be aspiring to get training and work, who has no obvious drug and alcohol issues and is socially very able told me that she got some food from a 'Foodbank' in Camberwell.  She also told me when asked that she was getting full benefit so I asked her why she got a handout, only to find that she went back the next day and got a 2nd handout!  When I explained this was not good for her and not what a food handout should be doing she replied "this [where she got her handout] must be a really good Foodbank".  

I heard John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, say recently that "I know people are going to change when they start talking about what they can do for others".  I would rather help people become contributors in society rather than receivers.  It stops the poor being kept in poverty! 

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