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Monday, 23 December 2013

Ruth Fox speaks about her frirst year as a Food bank organiser.

My first year as a food bank organiser

Ruth Fox at the food bank East Cleveland Baptist Church in Redcar
'I love the work' … Ruth Fox at the food bank at East Cleveland Baptist Church in Redcar.

The following text is from today's (23rd December 2013) Guardian and is reproduced in full: 

"I resisted getting involved with the food bank at first. The minister at my church kept asking me, but I had managed a charity for homeless young people and was looking for something with a little less responsibility. Finally, at the end of last year, I said yes. We opened on 30 January, and it's the best thing I've ever done.
When we started, we knew there was a need, but had no idea how much. We quickly realised we needed more distribution centres, because people were walking nine, 10, 11 miles for their food parcel, then home, struggling with the bags. That's not just people wanting free food, is it? It's desperation.
We now have five distribution centres in the Redcar and Cleveland area, and three more opening next year. Half of the people referred to us are facing benefit delays, and others are struggling with debt, domestic violence or low income. A few weeks back we had a lady in who was living with her teenage daughter, working three part-time jobs, and she just couldn't afford to buy food once everything else was paid for. We've had people say they can't afford the gas or electric, so we try to put in extra tins of fruit for them, food they can eat cold. One man told me he'd borrowed a camping stove from his next door neighbour because he couldn't afford the energy meters.
There was a definite increase in demand in April, when benefit changes came in, then again in the school summer holidays – we fed as many people in those eight weeks as we had in the first five months of the year. You realise how much families rely on free school lunches. A school phoned me one day, because a child had been sent in with a letter from his dad, saying: "Please make sure my child eats all the school dinner today, because that's the only meal he's going to get."
I have parents phoning me directly. I explain that an agency has to refer them to the food bank, and I tell them where they can go for help. One option is social services, and they say: "No, I'm not going to go to social services, because they might take the children off me." And I'm saying: "No, they really don't want to take the children off you, they want to help." But that's the perception people have.
People don't want to come to the food bank – it's humiliating, degrading. People don't even want to take their red voucher out of their pocket, because it shows they're a food bank client. We've been putting extras in to the parcels, coming up to Christmas – advent calendars and selection boxes – just so there's a treat this year.
The bedroom tax has also brought a lot of people in. I saw one guy recently who won custody when his son was about four or five, and gave up work to look after him. His son is now grown up, and has just joined the army, and this man is finding it hard to get work. Then he was hit by the bedroom tax. By the time he has paid his rent, council tax, the extra bedroom tax, put a fiver each on gas and electric, he has no money left. He's been told he has to move to a one-bedroom house, but when his son comes back on leave he wants to stay with his dad, obviously. I just think: "This young lad's gone off to serve his country, and he's being penalised for it. His father now volunteers in our warehouse – and his main reason for doing that is so he doesn't have to put gas and electricity on at home during the day.
Working at the food bank has changed my view of the UK, negatively and positively. It's horrendous that people are in this situation. We're the seventh richest country in the world, and since we opened at the end of January, just in this area, we've fed over 2,000 people. I did the job on a volunteer basis until November. I was doing 60 hours a week, on top of my part-time job, and since then I've been paid for about 21 hours a week – while still working 60 hours. I love the work. Each day is different, but if someone turned around and said: "Right, you're out of a job – we don't need food banks any more," that would be lovely.
On the positive side, people's generosity is incredible. We've got more than 100 volunteers working for us, and when we do collections at Tesco, people give so much. One guy took a shopping list, and we asked him to buy one or two items for us, and when he came back, he took a carrier bag out of the trolley. I thought that was what he was going to give us, and he said, "No, no, no, that's my shopping – that lot is yours". A whole trolley load.