York Food Bank provides an invaluable service for ordinary people. What’s impossible to stress enough is the importance of the word ‘ordinary’ in that sentence. If you’ve any preconceptions left about who may or may not end up using a food bank then ditch them before you carry on reading.
It’s very clear that we’ve all been (well, most of us) under increased financial pressure over the last few years and this pressure has led to a struggle to make ends meet for a lot of people who’d never been faced with this situation. Couple this with an increasingly punitive benefits system and it probably shouldn’t be surprising that a need has arisen for a service like this.
What this service certainly is not, is an easy option for anyone. This service is manifestly not about providing for people who’ve not shown the wherewithal to help themselves. Access to the York Food Bank services is only through a voucher system, with access to those vouchers carefully restricted to those experiencing a crisis. If you’re still thinking this is an easy option for media invented stereotypes relying on a hand out after spending their allegedly generous benefits on booze n’ fags then kindly step away.
Established 2 years ago in Acomb’s Gateway centre and affiliated with the local church, the York Food Bank has been steadily growing through that time and extending it’s reach further toward those who need it. There are now access points for the food bank in Tang Hall, Clifton and Bell Farm alongside the original service and they stagger their opening to ensure that in extreme cases there’s no need to wait longer than 48 hours to be able to collect a food parcel. Those parcels are not a one size fits all response either, each voucher entitles the bearer to three days worth of food for their household and a couple of hours of discussion about how best to proceed. Just a conversation might not sound like a huge deal, but try and place yourself in that position. Speaking personally, it’d surely feel a great help to have a safe and open conversation away from your circle of friends and family with someone who’s seen this situation before and may have even been there themselves. Again, we come back to stigmatising anyone who needs help and the implied failure that goes with that. Anything that can pull away from those negative connotations really deserves the fullest of support.
All the stock that makes up these parcels comes from public donation and with York being a relatively affluent place donations are not, currently at least, a problem. In fact since January of this year donations have doubled, perhaps in part due to the installation of a permanent collection point in Tesco at Askham Bar. All this would be rather pointless without people to keep things moving though and 150 volunteers give up time to help. It speaks well of the service that that a number of the volunteers are former service users.
Every month around 150 vouchers are distributed, in a large number of cases in response to those suffering benefit sanctions, to an audience that includes many working age single men. I’ll reinforce my point again – this is not an easy option for anyone. That this service has to exist and is so well used is depressing in itself, in fact the greatest side effect of success would be to run itself out of existence. For the moment though donations of food or money are welcome and very much needed. Check out http://york.foodbank.org.uk for info on how to help.