I’m very fortunate that where I work, we get to do two days of volunteering days per year & this year I have had the privilege of organising this for my team.
Choosing what to do was a difficult task, with so many worthy causes & charities all needing support. There was also the issue of us being a national team & we are so spread out that I needed to find a central location, so I settled on Birmingham & I decided to look into the option of supporting a Food Bank, as the coverage of these in the media has risen in recent years & I was also interested in knowing more about what they do.
I am now ashamed to admit that I suspected it may be people looking for a hand-out, but I actually couldn’t have been more wrong in the assumption. To use the FoodBank, you need a voucher, issued by any of the agencies that work with the service, including (but not limited to) health visitors, district nurses, police & GPs. FoodBanks are entirely reliant on donations from the pubic & organisations, such as supermarkets & food manufacturers who partner with them. When I met with the centre manager & asked what sort of people use the Food Bank, I was surprised by the huge variety of people that she talked about.
The examples included those who have had operations & sadly have no family close by to care for them, young families, the homeless & those who were in crisis. The story that struck me most was, I suppose, the person that sounded most like me. This was a story of a young lawyer who went to the office to find he had been made redundant & he was unable to find another position, which meant he was unable to pay his rent. He returned home one afternoon to find that the locks on his penthouse apartment had been changed & the landlord had kept his belongings to sell & cover the missed rent. He slept on the street for several nights & even had his shoes stolen while he slept one evening. He arrived at the Food Bank wearing a Hugo Boss suit & an Armani coat, but lamented that he couldn’t eat either. These stories really hit home, as the manager went on to say that with costs of living & the average family’s savings dwindling, you’re only about 2 pay packets away from being in what the Food Bank would describe as crisis. It certainly opened my eyes.
We were not able to pack up actual food parcels, as each is made up individually based on the likes & dislikes of the client when they visit the centre. Instead, we packed up hygiene packs, made up of lot of miniatures usually found in upmarket hotels, following a donation from a hotel company who were changing suppliers. These packs are essential, as often the clients at the centre are unable to have a hot shower or a shave, if they have no home or if they have no hot water. One of the functions of the centre is to try & assist clients get back on to their feet & possibly back into work, so appearance (& smell, which I hadn’t considered) is important. There were separate packs for men & women, containing different items in each.
We packed around 1200 hygiene kits & I was saddened to hear that these would probably only last a couple of months. It really hit home that the need for these centres is growing & growing, yet the support they are receiving is unfortunately not. We are going back to volunteer again in December, when we will be wrapping Christmas presents for families who are unable to provide the little things that many of us take for granted to add the sparkle to Christmas.