I like to do research before giving to charity. Usually.
I do sponsor people who do challenges for the causes they believe in without digging into the charity’s background, but where I choose to give directly to a cause, I like to do my research.
I want to be able to give to causes that use my donations in the right way, that don’t have unreasonable administration costs, that don’t have millions and millions in reserve. Maybe I still don’t make the best choices, but anyway.
For a long time, I haven’t donated a food bank. And here’s why.
I was uncomfortable with the fact that food banks were needed. In a first world country, there shouldn’t be such a significant rise in the demand for food banks. The government shouldn’t leave people starving, without even the money to put a hot meal on the table.
From what I’ve read, Food banks in the US are an even greater entity than they are here in the UK. Small food banks that were started by a community volunteer group have mushroomed; operations are on an industrial scale, volunteers feel under pressure to support complicated logistics, and people feel obliged to give. And supporting food banks just allows the situation to continue, to worsen.
So, I didn’t give to food banks.
But that’s changed, for a few reasons.
People are hungry in my town. Right now. And whether they are hungry because of a position they’ve been put in, because of decisions the government has made or because of mistakes they may have made (we can all think of times we’ve spent money in the past on things that now seem wasteful), they don’t deserve to be hungry.
Food banks have stepped it up a notch. They’re not just a place to get food any more, they offer more practical help managing finances and make sure people have access to the services available that will help them get back on track.
I was recently given a brief tour of my local Trussell Trust food bank and found out some interesting things:
- As you probably know, food banks ask for food with a long shelf life. But lots of people think how miserable it would be to go without the fresh fruits and vegetables you’re used to and probably take for granted, and so food banks also receive fresh goods too. The thing is, many people who use a food bank may have only basic cooking skills. On the day I visited, there was a fresh pack of peppers that had been donated as well as vegetables such as runner beans (it was harvest time). The volunteer was worried that people wouldn’t take them as they simply wouldn’t know what to do with them. Fresh food can go to waste.
- No Trussell Trust food bank has ever had baked beans on their list of needs, and yet every one is inundated with them! You can now check what items are most in need at local Trussell Trust food banks by checking out their website.
I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether to give toiletries, whether that’s the purpose of a food bank. But someone made a good point on this front. If you’re not able to take care of your teeth, emergency dental work will cost taxpayers money that could be avoided with a tube of toothpaste.
When you’re at a low ebb, how do you even begin to tackle the day if you don’t feel clean? How do you maintain a professional, or tidy appearance, needed for your job if you can’t shave or properly wash your hair?
I open my food cupboards and often think I have nothing in. In truth, my cupboards rarely have space to add anything. I can’t imagine the feeling of opening the door to empty shelves.
Giving to my local food bank has become part of my regular giving. Not because I feel obliged, not because the government should be off the hook, and not because I want them to become a permanent fixture of society (particularly on a grand scale).
But because sometimes people need a helping hand. Because refusing to donate doesn’t help solve the problem. Because to find the energy, the drive, the motivation, to bring yourself back from a low place, the body needs food and the soul needs compassion.
My question isn’t for you, the reader. It’s for the government. What are you doing to reduce society’s need for food banks? In the unlikely event that Theresa May doesn’t respond, feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below.