As 2018 draws to a close I find myself, coffee in hand, thinking of the events that defined the West Bromwich Food Bank during that period. We had the usual mix of misery and disappointment, occasionally interspersed with moments of humour. Our clients are the reason we do what we do. Their lives touch ours and often leaves us with feelings of anger that they are in the situation they are. It is a well-worn cliché, but in one of the world’s richest economies it is, frankly disgusting that so many people are living in poverty and have no idea where their next meal is coming from.
We have sat chatting to our clients and very often the choice is to eat or heat their home. We are forever being asked for financial support by our clients, so that they can top up their gas/electric credit. It is heartrending for us when we have to say no and signpost them to another agency that has the right connections and may be able to support them.
We work with a fantastic agency Black Country Womens Aid who actively support victims of domestic abuse and who will many times over the year ask for our support as they move victims and very often their young children to a place of safety.
Officialdom has featured heavily in the year. We have lost count of the number of times that clients are desperate because of government policy especially in relation to Universal Credit (UC). We now have a special category ‘universal credit delay’ to reflect in our statistics how people are caught in the UC trap. We fully expect this category to be well used in the coming year. When a person moves on to UC it can take up to five weeks but so often takes longer. This has the potential of placing a client in a position where they are in debt. The country desperately needs an overhaul of UC but presently, the government appear to be ignoring the issue.
During the year we had to close our drop in centre temporarily due to anti-social behaviour by a small minority of our visitors which could have put other visitors and our volunteers at risk. We hope to reopen this valuable resource early in the New Year.
Some clients bring their children with them, and even after eleven years of the food bank it still tugs at our heart strings to see their faces light up when they see the food come out.
As I said earlier, we do have moments of humour. I am reminded of the guy who came in for the first time. We had a brief chat, we gave him his food and he was amazed at what we gave him. He said that he wanted to give something back when he could. As I said to him, there’s no need, he said I am going to win the lottery next Friday and I will bring in one million pounds! Let’s see what happens I replied. He then said, I did it last week and never got one number right! (Oh well, easy come easy go!)
As we enter 2019, there is one thing I am sure of. We will see more misery, anger and bad decision making. Over the years I have stated that it is my intention to close the food bank because it will not be needed. I am, however, pragmatic and realise that, (barring a large miracle) it will not happen in 2019!
The team and I have been at times, totally gobsmacked by the generosity of West Bromwich residents, churches and local businesses. The donations have been regular and at times totally unexpected! During the run up to Christmas due to the support of our friends at the West Bromwich Town Bid the appeal for donations went town wide, with three drop off points around the town. This resulted in a healthy amount of food, plus donations of toys and gifts which were passed on to Black Country Womens Aid for distribution.
We reopen the food bank on Wednesday 2nd January 2019 following our Christmas break, and expect to hit the ground running as we begin a new season of support and encouragement.
My personal wish list for the food bank for 2019 is:
- Less misery and despair for those forced to use a food bank
- More compassion from our government in their dealings with those in crisis
- To be able to scale down our operations or to close altogether as we are no longer needed
These wishes are achievable, it only needs commitment and compassion from those responsible for government policy and the same compassion and commitment from those responsible for implementing the policy.
As we enter 2019, I would like to express my appreciation of our partner agencies and the great work they do in supporting the most vulnerable in our community. May your funding be regular and guaranteed and may you continue to make a difference in the lives of so many.
And finally, (for now) a word or two of thanks to the team of volunteers who ensure that the food bank is able to maintain its work. Thank you, we could not do what we do without you. You are all helping to make a difference, rest assured, you are all valued and appreciated.