It is easy to think of a food bank as just needing items which are then given out to people who need them, but there is a lot more that goes on, and even the basic premise is carried out within a more complex structure that is initially thought. These reasons, alongside the more consistent and cheaper food sources that we can access ourselves that makes regular donations of +£2 a better way to support the food bank to carry out its services.
We have seen a consistent increase in the number of people needing packages who are not able to come to the food bank and have no one to come and collect on their behalf. These issues are largely medically related, with a number of physical and mental health issues making it impossible for people to travel to and from the food bank with bags of food.
This means that a considerable amount of staff time is spent per week organising and delivering packages that fit with the dietary needs of the person, whilst also being suitable for them to prepare and eat themselves. This often means purchasing items, not on our list.
The enhanced needs of the person they need to be considered. If they are alone and unable to collect food, it means that other tasks are also difficult, which means that the food bank manager often needs to assist with other tasks (recent examples being installing and setting up broadband, sorting post, helping fill out court forms), which again takes up time and resources. As the referral agents who connect the individuals to the food bank are not always able to do home visits themselves, it is us who can carry out these tasks and act as a bridge between the referral agent and the individual.
Whilst most items are distributed on our session on Wednesdays, there are regular occasions where someone will come to the attention of a referral agent or the food bank where they have absolutely nothing and need items immediately. This requires flexibility and the ability to respond with appropriate items at short notice, which can sometimes mean having to purchase the items especially. As the situations that have led the person to need an emergency referral are inevitably serious, more work is then required to ensure the person is receiving appropriate support. Examples of emergency referrals are people who have been evicted from their homes and individuals who have experienced a familial breakdown.
Many people have complex needs and limited support networks to help them with issues that may emerge both in relation to the situation that has led them to the food bank and other problems that may arise, whereas the referral agencies that have sent them to the food bank may not have enough time, resources or capacity to help with all of a person’s issues. Or the person is not able to find any appropriate help. This means that the food bank and its volunteers often provide further time and support to help people.
Recently, this has included support with job searches, CVs and interview preparation; referrals to adult social services; referrals to other specialist organisations; help with court forms; research on various benefits related processes; finding and connecting to appropriate training courses.
Not only does the food bank provide a place to receive essentials packages and advice. But a place for people to sit, eat, drink and talk to people they may or may not know and to volunteers.
This is not necessarily a situation that people who need to use a food bank can often do, given the financial requirements attached to going to social spaces such as coffee shops, so the food bank is fulfilling a role in getting people out of their houses and communicating with others in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.