On Friday I spent some time at the Portslade Community Forum Food Bank. Every Friday a team of volunteers get up at the crack of dawn and begin the mammoth task of cooking lunch for a hundred people and prepare food parcels to keep them and their families nourished for another week.
Last week the team went the extra mile and laid on a full Christmas lunch. Head chef Marie and her incredible team of volunteers produced a meal that was nothing short of sp…ectacular. They also helped parents with presents for children too.
I spoke with everyone that was there for assistance and heard all their stories. It’s heartbreaking to hear. Many have been on benefits but no longer have enough income to feed themselves or their family.
A surprising number of people were using the food bank for the first time or started relatively recently and when you listen a trend emerges. Lots of people are in low paid work which only just keeps them going but they’re not able to save, so when they loose their job or circumstances change they are instantly plunged into food poverty. One person told me very emotionally, ‘if you’d told me two months ago that I’d be using a food bank I’d never have believed you. But here I am’.
Another table had two fantastic women eating lunch, both with degrees from Sussex and Brighton Uni’s.
The force behind this food bank are volunteers like Anne and Jackie who drive this forward with passion, and Portslade’s three councillors. All of them were there and told me in no uncertain terms how government policy is turning poor people into vulnerable people.
I came away having seen the best and worst of life in modern Britain. The impact that government policy is having deep into our communities where hard work is no longer enough to put food on people’s tables, where people who need a leg-up are given so little support they are dragged down instead, and where people with a great education are unable to find their place in our local economy, an economy that needs specific skills in which to thrive.
But I also saw the best of our community too. People giving huge amounts of time to support others. Team spirit and great fun despite the challenges. And the generosity of local residents who had given food, money, and clothing. I saw the impact it made, the smiles of those who received it, so thanks to everyone who has given so generously.
There’s a lot for me to reflect on after this visit to another of our food banks. Next year I will fight even harder to make sure that the underlying causes of food poverty are tackled and that government are challenged on policies that cause hardship in communities that can sometimes struggle to be heard. All the best, Peter