Maeve Adams, a committed warehouse volunteer at Greenwich food bank
Maeve Adams, a committed warehouse volunteer at Greenwich food bank

While the focus of this blog has been on the personal stories of food bank clients, I thought I’d mention what goes on behind the scenes, and try to find out what makes the Trussell Trust food banks here in Greenwich run so smoothly. I’m also going to try to find out why people want to help out as volunteers.

Greenwich food bank currently runs seven food banks throughout the borough. Thanks to the continuing support of the Royal Borough of Greenwich – and its partner organisation Greenwich Leisure Ltd, Greenwich food bank opened two new public donation points earlier this year at the Arches Leisure Centre in Trafalgar Road, Greenwich and at Charlton House in Charlton. This meant that people living in the west of the borough could donate more easily. There are already donation points in Woolwich and Eltham  Centres, Greenwich Community College, Tesco Extra and Sainsbury’s in Eltham.

The food bank’s network of churches across the borough also provides collection points, and many of the schools in the borough also donate, particularly around Harvest Festival time. The amount of food donated seems to be on the increase, as awareness grows about the need for food banks.

A small but committed army – the vast majority of them volunteers – keeps the show on the road. In Greenwich borough there is one central food bank warehouse, where food is sorted by volunteers according to type and its ‘best before’ date. They also check it is undamaged, then pack it into boxes and store it, ready for use. Food is then taken to foodbank centres by van, where it’s made up into food parcels ready for use.

The Greenwich food bank operation is thriving in no small part because of its volunteers of all ages and background. Many of them are drawn from local churches. Some are secondary-aged children helping out for an hour or two as some form of local community activity. A number of volunteers work ‘front of house’ – greeting clients who bring in food vouchers issued by frontline professionals such as social workers, GPs and Citizens Advice Bureau staff. If facilities are available – as is the case in Eltham – they’ll get a cup of tea and the chance of some emotional support as well as an emergency food supply. A lot of ‘signposting’ can get done at this point, if clients can spare the time and energy to talk. The volunteers I see are great at engaging with the people who come in,. They try their best to offer useful help, or whatever it is that someone needs most that day.

Some clients just want a person they can talk to who will actually take their minds off the harsh realities of the ghastly situation they’re in.  Sometimes they don’t want ‘solutions’. They might want help with a crossword rather than analysis of the likely outcome of their application for employment and support allowance.

The people I’ve seen are instinctively good at knowing what clients really need. Yes, they need food on the table, but more than that they want to be valued for who they are. Many of the clients end up wanting to volunteer at the food bank themselves.

Maeve Adams, a lovely lady with a grown-up daughter, is long-standing volunteer in the Eltham warehouse. She doesn’t meet clients, as her role is to sort out the donations as they’re received. She’s very committed indeed, and has been helping here for over a year. She dedicates a couple of hours each Wednesday and Friday. Why does she spend so much of her free time volunteering? ‘The first time I heard about food banks was on the news. I didn’t realise there was still a need for food banks. I’m not naive, but I didn’t realise they still existed. That was a shock. I really enjoy helping out here.’

She does have religious convictions – she’s a Catholic – and for her it’s about wanting to give something back to the community. ‘We’ve all got our own individual ways to feel wanted and needed, and for me I feel that I’ve got that balance. There are people worse off than me. The people here volunteer for different reasons. There are different age groups, but everyone here has the same intentions, so it’s easy to blend in. We want to do something good.’

2 thoughts on “Maeve: The food bank volunteer

  1. Without volunteers the food banks could not exist. Their help is inestimable.

    But we are the only nation in Europe that local councils in collaboration with charities does not provide kitchen canteens giving a free hot cooked meal and hot drink each and every day, 7 days a week.

    The Coalition did not accept EU funding towards the food bank, despite councils donating more and more money to food banks.

    So all the austerity cuts to benefits has meant no tax savings as councils give funding to food banks and people suffering malnutrition have to be admitted to hospital, so a burden on both these cash strapped public services.

    Fareshare is not subsidised enough nor gets the majority of the surplus food, which money and food goes to landfill or energy from waste power stations from government. That story seems not to have caused even a ripple in the media, after a front page story in The Times, the newspaper of the rich. The rich know that a hungry population is a dangerous one, as history shows and even Roman emperors gave free bread each morning to its citizens.

    Women between 60-66 who are early retired in lieu of redundancy from Austerity job cuts also face a bleak future in old age. The average women works pensions in public sector is not even a quarter of the average wage, as the bulk of the half of women employed in government/council are on the basic grades.

    Raised tax allowances do not help the majority of women as they tend to be even poorer than men.

    Ageism in job recruitment, the raise in employment being zero hour contracts, part time casual, in low waged jobs and low and insecure income self employment and cuts in benefit, also impact women over 60 since 2013 who lost state pension payout.

    Without benefit, food banks cannot feed people at all.

    Of whatever age, the sanctioned off benefit, delayed benefit, lost or never gained benefit, cannot get food vouchers.

    And why is there a food voucher system?

    Why not just proof of identity and receipt of benefit and sanction letters?

    Why is the Labour party, having received half a billion pounds from trade unions over last 30 years, not in a position to open up free cafes from each and every Labour party branch offices to feed all those sanctioned off benefit or not on benefit, and in jobs far below a living wage?

    It is hard working families and pensioners short of a pension who have worked for anything up to half a century, that are the bulk of those going hungry.

    Instead of slavery Workfare, why not employ staff in the free kitchens as European governments do?

    Will there be a national network of council-run free cafes when Labour gets into power next year?

    Has there been any debate about a universal citizen wage paid for by the 50 per cent Income tax rate that Labour will bring in, that would end the need for food banks, and replace them with a national network of social supermarkets by proof of identity and low income?

    There is no funding consequences of revoking the Welfare Reform Act, Pension Bill and Flat Rate Pension, as welfare reform admin costs billions, with companies not paying corporation tax.

    Without state pension at 60 since 2013 (those born 1953) and 2014 (those born 1954) we see the beginning of women being left to starve into the future in amongst the 530,000 so far effected.

    But it not just the loss of state penson at 60 that threatens penniless hunger. But other changes that leave women with no food money at all.

    Needed is help from Labour party members to promote my petition so that women are informed of the changes and so to help Mr Miliband change Labour’s general election manifesto.

    Because women turning 60 from 2013 have come off the electoral roll as no party is offering them anything but penury and no access to food banks, themselves only 3 vouchers in a year.

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