When you get chatting to people about working at the foodbank you realise there are a lot of misconceptions out there. I’ve had several conversations which indicate that the public view of clients who come to our foodbanks is far from accurate. Many think clients are eagerly searching for handouts, something for nothing, and that this sort of behaviour is something they engage in regularly.
Today I met Brian (not his real name) who came to our foodbank for the first time. His story is not unique but does demonstrate the kind of people and their situations which are more representative of who we are helping.
I greeted Brian at the door and he struck me immediately as being nervous and agitated. I asked him for his voucher and he presented a voucher which had been folded multiple times. He apologised twice; once for coming to the foodbank “I’m so ashamed,” he said and secondly for his voucher which was 10 days old. He told me he had not asked for a voucher from the referral agency, but they had given it to him anyway as they felt he was in need. He had not used it in the intervening days because he felt ‘bad’. “I didn’t want to come,” he said.
It turned out that he had only come today as the result of a chance meeting with someone who was able to give him a lift and accompany him. If he had not met them, he would not have come on his own.
Once we were sat at a table, Brian refused a cuppa and something to eat. He was keen to speed up the process and asked me what he had to do. He was anxious about having to write or read as he didn’t feel confident about his literacy skills. I explained the pick list and we went through his selection. He was again apologetic and, at several points refused items from the list saying, “I will only take what I need”. Even though I showed him the ‘help yourself’ box he took nothing.
While the items were being packed for him, he told me how things had fallen apart on the death of his 83-year-old mother. She had done everything for him and in turn he cared for her until she died 8 months ago. Now he was struggling to manage with everyday things, including cooking.
He was living on £30 per week, paying his rent but falling behind on bills and not feeding himself. Although he had a relative living locally, he didn’t like asking them to help him. At one point he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I haven’t had a cup of tea since Friday” (4 days previously). This was a man who had not had a cup of tea or a meal for 5 days and was ashamed to present himself at a foodbank for help.
I said he could come again but he wanted an assurance that I would be at the foodbank. I said all the volunteers would not judge him; we were all keen to provide for him from what we had and support him out of his difficulties if we could. He left with a couple of bags of food and said he would make them last as long as possible. I’m sure he will. I hope he finds the courage to come back if and when he needs to, but I would not be surprised if he does not.
These are the clients who come to the foodbank: the proud, the ashamed, the anxious, the desperate and the deserving.