2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation
One of the beautiful things to see emerging the last few months is how students of different faiths are helping us with the foodbank. Every few weeks or so a couple of Muslim lads drop by with a car full of food that they have collected from various mosques. The same day when they paid their last visit we received a cheque for £250 from the local synagogue. Neither donations had been solicited from either faith community and they were gladly received. The Muslims run an excellent charity called the Myriad Foundation which aims ‘ To make a positive impact on society and a significant contribution to the community’.
Another story which was heart-warming was when two young ladies turned up with two boxes of cakes. I gratefully received them and asked them what had motivated them to donate them. It turned out that their mother had recently used the foodbank. She was so grateful that now that she had got out of her temporary crisis, she had held a cake sale to raise money for our foodbank, and so the next week a cheque arrived for a few hundred pounds.
At the recent National Conference of the Trussel Trust – I attended a workshop on how to receive the stories of our clients. At first we were reluctant to ‘pry’ into the reasons why people were coming for the foodbank. However we have since learnt that we actually have a duty to give people the option to tell their stories. It seems that about 80% of the users are all to keen to tell their stories (we have had been able to help over 1,300 people so far). The Trussel Trust are keen to get their stories’out there’ in order to challenge the negative stereotypes and myths of ‘scroungers’ that seems to poison the public debate about poverty in this country. The stories initially are taken anonymously and will be posted up on our blog (link), and then the majority of clients give permission to use them with media outlets / or journalists who get in touch – this time with some independent verification.
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.
Two lovely stories today from the adventure that is the Catholic Chaplaincy at Manchester. It has been widely reported about the great scandal of loneliness amongst the elderly in our country, ia great shame. It is alarming the growing intolerance of the old – often seen as a nuisance, slowing our consumerist society down. Coupled with this is the growing scandal of heating bills and the greed of the energy companies, to which the old are particularly vulnerable. An Old Lady came in this morning – who regularly attends mass. Very frail, hunched over but with a real spark in her eyes. I look forward to our weekly conversation. She told me with tears in her eyes that she was moving back to Newcastle – because she couldn’t afford to heat her flat in Manchester. According to her the council had ripped out the night storage heaters and updated the radiators. She has found a smaller flat in Newcastle which is more efficiently heated. And then stooping down she pulled out a huge jam jar full of 10ps and copper she had been collecting for years! She wanted me to take it for the church. The widows mite indeed.
Also we had the foodbank open this morning and an emaciated young man was referred to us. An essential part of the foodbank is that people are welcomed and sit down and treated to tea and homemade cakes (from the students). Whilst the food parcels are being prepared, they tell us a bit of their story and we find out more about the nature of their crisis. This helps us to ‘signpost’ them to other support services they might not be aware of. Talking to one of our students he said how he was struggling to cope with the aftermath of his fathers death. Evidently a pentecostal ‘pastor’ had told him that as he was gay he was to never go into a church. For some reason he had obeyed this idiot (millstones round necks come to mind) . The young man really wanted someone to pray with him for his father. So to his great relief and delight our student took him into the chapel and they prayed together. A case of spiritual wounds being harder to cure then the physical wounds of hunger.