Parking my own bags of shopping down I am welcomed by Helen Ingleby, food bank volunteer, account manager and Methodist lay preacher. She explains that the food bank at St. Andrews has been going for approximately six weeks since moving from their other base they shared in St. Barnabas Church in Belle Isle to Beeston. They are open every Monday from 11 am till 1pm.
The city church network is affiliated with the national charity The Trussell Trust who help provide food parcels for people who find themselves in crisis. Helen and all other volunteers have their badge with the food bank logo on it. The church trust first started out in central Leeds a few years ago, including St. George’s Crypt rolling out food banks in all corners of Leeds.
I take a seat at the inviting table and chair and get offered a coffee and biscuit by one of the friendly volunteers. A man walks in through the door holding a red voucher. He is here to collect a bag of food. The voucher is issued from the council’s ‘One Stop’ on Dewsbury Road. Helen explains, all the people who walk through the door have already been referred to the food bank in some way. You have to be referred in order to get a voucher . This can be through a G.P. Health Visitor, Family Support professional, Social Worker or any professional identifying a need with a person or family. The church offers more than a pit stop. It’s a chance to help chat and signpost people to other services for support.
“Because we are volunteers we are not here to judge. Sometimes people just want to off load their problems, so we sit and listen”
As a mum of two, I know how hard it is to be creative with half an onion and a jar of salsa sauce for an evening meal. But how bad does have to be when you can’t provide a basic balanced meal for your family? Actually, it is surprising how easily people can find their financial circumstances change, sometimes overnight. For all those questions there’s a plethora of answers linked to individuals circumstances. Take for instance finding a job and coming off job seekers allowance. The last day of your claim can be nearly a month before you get paid by your new employer. This leaves you with a big gap in income.
Then there’s the ‘zero working hours’. Wages might fluctuate making it difficult to budget properly and there’s also the lack of job security. Also, rising costs of living and paying for energy weigh heavily on bank balances. Some people’s wages are so low, there’s no chance for saving which means there’s no personal financial safety net. I’m told one family receiving support notified the job centre of the a change of address. Then, because it wasn’t properly internally filed, an appointment was missed and the benefit and was stopped for two weeks. One man walks in and helps pack and carry a couple of bags and then leaves. I’m told he is a social worker working with male prison leavers.
The food bank is a temporary measure – you can only access it 3 times in 6 months by one family. However, Helen says we don’t turn people away, we try and help everyone somehow. The food is stored in a built in wardrobe in the small side room to the main church. Volunteers are helping to bag up a various items, such as tins of fish, soup, cereal, meat, vegetables and pasta. Helen says as well as looking for volunteers, plastic bags are always handy too. It’s because they have to double bag everything due to the weight. Helen also shows me four food allocation forms to help the volunteers provide the correct amount of food. This is a list of nutritional items giving the quantities of which vary depending the recipient, ranging from a single person, couple/1 parent with child, family with children and family with 3+ children.
There is one warehouse to store food for the whole of Leeds. Helen mentions the project managers name: Linda Jackson, she is the force behind the of the food banks for the churches. They are looking to apply for a lease on another warehouse behind the Garnets in Beeston to store the food because they are receiving so much. The main suppliers are Tesco and Asda, but they receive lots of food from Morrisons too, and independent groceries. They are currently looking into donations for a van. At the moment food is transported back and forward by car, it would be much easier if they had a van to leave the warehouse and go straight to both Belle and Beeston. Volunteer Dale tells me that last week they shifted 8.8 tons of food.
Helen also says she has never known a cause be so ecumenical in the community. It has helped create a working partnership between the Anglicans, Methodists, Church of England and Catholic churches in a way they have never worked before.
“Each time someone leaves, we ask them if they’d like us to say a little prayer for them. Whatever religion or non religion they are, they are happy for us to do that.”
The food bank are always looking for volunteers. They offer good work based training programs for young people in the warehouse or helping to pack bags. They are also looking for volunteers who will sit and chat, lend an ear and spend a bit of time with people who need to talk.