This is the story of food bank volunteer Debbie Angel and her feelings about both the work that she does and the clients who come to the food banks in this corner of London. Debbie (pictured left) greets the people who come in here, helps them to feel more at ease, and provides a listening ear as well as a crisis package of food to those in need.
They’re coming through her doors in increasing numbers. London may be the best city in the world to move to for work, according to a survey of over 200,000 people in 189 countries compiled by The Boston Consulting Group, recruiters The Network, and totaljobs.com. But for many of London’s existing residents – mainly those who are out of work, or on low incomes, or disabled and in ill-health – the city doesn’t seem nearly as attractive as this. It doesn’t seem quite the gleaming metropolis to the clients who arrive to see Debbie and the other volunteers each week.
When you take a closer look there’s a massive problem here and throughout the UK. The food banks here in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and across the UK come under the franchise of the Trussell Trust Network and the Trussell Trust’s statistics on food bank use are truly shocking. In 2013-14 913,138 people were given three days of emergency food and support, and the primary referral causes were benefit delays (31%) and low income (20%). In 2012-13 the figure was 346,992. But as the chairman of the Trussell Trust Chris Mould says – these figures are merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The charity has more than 420 food banks, but represents well under half of the total number of emergency food suppliers in the UK. A January 2014 report by Dr Eoin Clarke put the Trussell’s Trust’s share of the food bank sector at 43%.
When they reach the food banks here, people are desperate and at the end of a road. They can’t feed themselves or any dependents they may have.
If that happened to you, how would you feel about it? Maybe you’d be angry, depressed, frustrated or powerless? Would you feel somewhat bitter and resentful of others in this rich capital that people from all over the world seem to want to move to for work?
Well here’s the thing.
While people do want to share their experiences and explain the life circumstances that have led them here, people don’t tend to leave the food bank steeped in those emotions.
The accounts that people often share of their lives are ‘very heavy and very difficult’, says Debbie. But she believes that the common thread linking together the people she meets is gratitude and a desire to give something back to the organisation that has helped them through one of the hardest times in their lives. She says: ‘They are so grateful that we care about them. It’s the fact that you’ve listened to them. They encourage me as much as I encourage them. Giving them the food is the least of what happens. That’s the hardest thing for them to take away. Giving them some loving care and kindness and being here and hearing them speak is the important bit. They want to give things back when they are able.’
She adds: ‘This is not a one-sided thing – I love speaking to people here.’
I see people leaving with their heads held higher than when they came in, thanks to people such as Debbie.