The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 400 foodbanks. In the last year 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis. 436,938 of these went to children. The public donated 11,175 tonnes of food. 40,000 people volunteered across the country.
But statistics are difficult to understand. The value and impact are almost lost in incomprehensible numbers. In order to truly understand and feel the work of The Trussell Trust, I wanted to know what made a centre tick. So I started on our doorstep, in Islington.
Welcomed in the door with a cuppa and a biscuit, I was immediately at ease – the same feeling extended to each individual as they come to collect their food parcel. Everyone who comes through the door has been referred to by an external service; the council, job centres, outreach programmes.
The food parcel given provides 3 meals a day for 3 days - but at this food bank, it is about so much more than just this exchange. Volunteers sit down and offer a listening ear. Each client is asked - do you have access to a hob, a tin opener, a kettle? – questions that are so easily taken for granted.
The sense of community here is strong, there is no sense of shame, but dignity. Dignity in accepting help, and stepping on that first rung of the ladder. One individual who was volunteering in the warehouse that day, had also visited the foodbank himself just a few hours earlier to pick up a parcel.
Although sadly the role of bureaucracy can't be avoided forever, and the foodbank can only ever be a short-term, finite solution. Each individual is limited in coming 12 times each calendar year, no matter what their circumstances.
That's 329 days a year where help is denied, which somehow doesn't quite seem right to me. It also begs the question of whether the provision of emergency food to our most vulnerable is the job of the third sector, or the government's.
But that's for another day...