It can happen to any of us. There’s no shame.
As you read this article, you must always remember that.
People go through good times, and people go through bad times. We often can’t help the situations we find ourselves in. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, a payment is delayed, or you’re unwell. In the UK, hunger is caused by people not having enough money, not by a lack of food. A health problem or a job loss might happen to anybody. When life becomes tough, how we treat one another says a lot about us as a country.
When food becomes a luxury
There are so many reasons why people find themselves in situations where food becomes a luxury.
But many foodbank visitors say they’ve had to deal with stigma and feelings of “shame” or “embarrassment” about needing assistance. They feel as if they are the ones to blame and that they’ve done something wrong. This isn’t the case.
We don’t see the whole picture by judging people’s situations by looking at what we see on the surface. For example, it may seem odd, but many people who visit food banks drive there. You may be asking: “If they can afford a car, why can’t they pay for food?”
Because there are times where not paying for food is the only option. Perhaps they need a car to get to work or even use the car for their work. It’s a sad and unavoidable cycle of needing a job, but needing a car to get to work, but then using the wages to pay for the car. Often, there’s little money left over. And it’s never as simple as “go find another job”. There are so many things that we can’t predict, that hide under the surface. We have to learn to respect people and understand their situation, even if we don’t know all the details.
These are the messages we should choose to send to all of those having a difficult time.
Despite the awful situations many of these food bank users are in, you will find them describing their emotions after visiting as “thankful” and “relief”. Why?
It’s not about feeling defeated so much as it is about having the confidence to seek help. Food banks are not a symptom of a dysfunctional society. They are a sign of a community that cares about its members. For individuals who use the programme, it can save their lives – and if you need to visit a foodbank and are still unsure, just remember: It means you can eat. It means you can get healthy. It means that you can be less stressed and rest a little bit easier.
What is a food bank anyway?
Food banks are similar to supermarkets except that they offer everything for free to those who can’t afford to buy enough food to eat.
The commodities provided at food banks are necessities for people’s survival, the majority of which are donated to charity by members of the public.
They may not be the ultimate solution to helping people improve their lives. But they are a welcome safety net. In the long run, they will save society money and improve the well-being of all citizens. Many societal issues like debt, criminality, mental illness, and the breakup of families can be lessened by providing food bank services.
When is it ok to go to a food bank?
Whenever you are in crisis and need food urgently. It is as simple and clear-cut as that!
Food insecurity can range from a worry of running out of food to an inability to buy enough food to going a day without eating due to a shortage of food. All of these are an indicator that you are in crisis and could benefit from some helpful.
You don’t have to be in an ongoing crisis. It can be a one-off visit when things get incredibly tough one month. Especially during the school holidays, when some families cannot buy food since their children do not receive free lunches at school.
How do you use a food bank?
Before you can use a food bank, you’ll almost always require a referral. Getting a referral is best done by contacting your closest Citizens Advice. People don’t merely drop in for a bite to eat.
If going to Citizens Advice isn’t possible, you can get a referral from an organisation already helping you, such as a charity, a school, or a children’s centre. Every client is referred by charity caseworkers, job centres, or social services.
Inform these organisations that you require assistance from a food bank, and they will most likely schedule an appointment for you to meet with an adviser to examine your circumstances.
These referrals aren’t intended to last for a long time, which is why other services are offered alongside a food bank referral, such as debt management and help with benefits applications.
Who can use a food bank?
There are no ‘types’ or ‘groups’ of people that stereotypically visit food banks. Every person is from a different walk of life. We can all get into unfortunate situations no matter who we are and where we grew up.
The only common theme that researchers have found is that most people referred to food banks had gone through a difficult life event in the preceding year. That’s nearly all there is to it.
For example, the coronavirus epidemic has put many more people into difficult circumstances. As a result, two out of every five persons who visit food banks have never had to ask for food assistance before.
Those walking through their doors range from single parents who have run out of money to feed their children, to those waiting for their benefits to arrive.
You may be asking, “What about poverty? Don’t only those who have serious and constant financial problems visit food banks?”
Not at all! In fact, low income is mentioned by just one out of every five people who use food banks, while benefit changes are mentioned by one out of every six people. There are abuse victims, families in debt and people overwhelmed around the holidays because there are no free school lunches available.
Life is unpredictable — much less guessing who needs to visit a food bank!
who are the volunteers?
Who are the volunteers?
Much like those who visit food banks, volunteers can be anyone and everyone!
What they do have in common is that they are kind and sympathetic people. Typically they are from your local community, and their only motive is to help those around them.
Interestingly, the volunteers are likely people who have visited a food bank in the past. They’ve seen and experienced first-hand all the struggles of being in difficult situations and having to ask for assistance.
Now, they want to give back the same kindness that they received when they first visited.
What is available at a food bank?
The public donates the majority of the food that banks provide. And it’s usually made up of essentials:
- Tinned fruit, beans, and soup
- Even cookies!
But it’s not only food that’s accessible. Other necessities, such as:
- Toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Sanitary towels
- And soap
are also available.
Hardship affects people from all areas of life, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Life has its ups and downs, but having a safety blanket in case things get really bad is a truly wonderful thing. It provides people with the chance to stress about one less thing in times that are already hard enough.
If you’re not ready for people in your life to find out you need to use a food bank, that’s completely okay! All referrals are handled with the utmost discretion. To ease your mind, know that when you collect your food, there are no giant bags with colourful letters that say ‘Food Bank’ on the side!
Citizens Advice: find your local Citizens Advice Bureau
Citizens Advice: help if you’re struggling with living costs
Journal of Poverty and Social Injustice: Stigma, shame and ‘people like us’: an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK
BBC Newsround: Food banks – what are they and who are they for?
Gov.uk: Debt management plans
BBC News: who really goes to a food bank?
The Child Poverty Action Group, Church of England, Oxfam GB and The Trussell Trust: Understanding and reducing the use of food banks in the UK
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