There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks. We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service. As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again. We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this. So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway. Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank. It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job. We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go. Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.
However last week there was interesting development. One guy, referred by the probation service, came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags. ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students. Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him. The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust. So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling. However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience. It was interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu. Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them. Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated.
It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.