Food Banks remain “candles in the darkness” despite scaremongering
Fr Tim Byron SJ is senior Catholic chaplain to the Universities of Manchester, and priest at the Holy Name Church, Manchester. He helped to set up and organise the Manchester Central Food Bank, the first student-run food bank in the UK.
Recent national press reports say that food banks are being used by drug addicts to feed their habits. Fr Tim retorts “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Here Fr Tim explains how the food bank actually works.
All food given out by food banks is donated, most often from schools, churches, businesses, individuals, or through supermarket collections whereby volunteers offer shoppers a ‘foodbank shopping list’ and ask them to buy an extra item with their shop. This food is then handed to volunteers waiting beyond the checkout who pack it and take it to the foodbank warehouse.
Volunteers at the warehouse then weigh and sort the donated food according to type and 'best before date' also checking it is undamaged and suitable for use.
Food bank vouchers are issued to people identified as being “in need” by professionals from statutory and voluntary organisations such as health centres, social workers, local charity workers, welfare officers, the police and probation officers. Many people are surprised to find that they are already in contact with one of the referral agencies and did not know it: many housing agencies, GPs, school safeguarding teams and churches hold food bank vouchers
Voucher holders then bring their voucher to a food bank centre where it can be exchanged for a parcel with three days’ supply of emergency food designed by dieticians to be nutritionally balanced.
Some food banks run a delivery service to get emergency food to clients living in rural areas and those who are unable to travel.
Importantly, food bank volunteers often chat with users over a cup of tea or hot meal enabling them to hear their stories and, if needed, direct them to agencies who can offer additional help.
Fr Tim reports, ”the Manchester Central Food Bank works with nearly a hundred organisations, community projects, support agencies and professional advice services who help, advise and support people with a variety of different crisis situations. We have a great team of volunteers who are a listening ear and can help signpost those in need to an agency to get help, support and advice.”