Attending a girls school from the age of eleven, there ought to have been nothing startling about Claire*. The young teenager wore casual clothes I could picture in the windows of H&M or Primark, with fluffy Ugg boots. I sat opposite her and her parents in something that resembled a parent's evening discussion, except I'm only three or four years older than her, and this wasn't a school; we were in a foodbank. Having volunteered with The Trussell Trust for over two and a half years I have come to remember only a few faces or names. However, Claire will probably remain with me, for a number of reasons. Not only did this young woman have to spend a Saturday with me and her parents in a foodbank instead of shopping with her friends or at the cinema, but also her father's declining health and resultant inability to work had meant she could not choose her food instead receiving our packages of tins and non-perishables. What will remain with me most is the fact that I know, I could have walked past her in the school corridor and not even blinked.
Over a million people sought food from the UK's largest group of foodbanks, The Trussell Trust, last year. Clients have often disclosed to me their fear of coming; a client once admitted to being so ashamed she walked past our building three times before coming in. The primary cause for visiting foodbanks: benefit delays. Combining these statistics with the numbers of those visiting due to changes in benefits totals to just over 42%. What is wrong with the benefit system? Simply, I don't know; I have never claimed benefits, had a job and I still live at home with my parents. Being slightly idealistic I am genuinely perplexed by a government that allows its people to starve when they have to choose between rent, heat and food. I cannot discuss lofty economic policy which I cannot begin to wrap my head round. What I can talk of are aggressive headlines preceding unfair articles about those who visit foodbanks and claim benefits, writings that hurt and harm.
Let me state something outright: people are not living on benefits - they're surviving. Their lives are often dominated with questions over what they can afford, but they're still people who don't deserve to be spoken about or looked upon hatefully. The reality is a great number of people do not understand those who visit our country's foodbanks. I have met both volunteers and clients, who have moved me in unexplainable ways. The directors who promoted me to shift leaders, when I never thought I could live up to such a position. The week before Christmas last year when we were overrun with clients, I left my position at the computer, knowing I could enter details later, to play with the children, now on their school holidays, who were enjoying the toys we had. The Trussell Trust is a charity with both volunteers and clients, who take everyone, and help everyone they can. There seems to be a great misunderstanding about what we do, who we are and who we help and how we do so. Offering someone a tea, a slice of cake and asking "How are you" means more than I thought it could.
The people you meet in foodbanks are like everyone else; some you don't like and some will stay with you forever, and I hope this article has debunked some myths about those we help.
Volunteering at a foodbank, or anywhere for that matter, reminds you of how small your problems often are but also how capable you are. A single mother arrived to us once with her young daughter. I asked this quiet child, who at this point in the meeting hadn't said anything, what was her favourite food . "Spaghetti hoops," a small response came. To some this might be a worrying response, hoping she'd say a favourite fruit or home cooked meal- but I was relieved. I could give this little kid her favourite food and on that day it was enough.