The Bread of Life

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Foodbanks were virtually unheard of in the UK ten years ago but now across the country thousands of people have used foodbanks in times of crisis. Somewhere in the UK a new one opens every couple of days. One foodbank organisation fed nearly 100,000 people nationwide last year and just over 300,000 were children. Tameside has many foodbanks run by different organisations, community groups and churches. As I was helping in a foodbank this week I thought I better take some food with me. I thought baked beans would be a good idea but couldn’t find any so I opted for tuna. I was going to St James Church in Millbrook which has a drop in on a Saturday morning from 10.30am to 12pm. Most foodbanks are based on a referral system where a voucher is given if a health professional or other professional decides someone is in need. The foodbank in Millbrook is no different in that respect but the Saturday drop in called ‘Bread of Life’ is an addition where people can come for food and company.

When I arrived to help there were lots of food donations to pack away, collected from local groups, churches and schools. The harvest festival had meant that there were many tins. Baked beans and soup had featured heavily. Thank goodness I had brought the tuna. I divided the food into cupboards with the other volunteers while a couple more were in the kitchen preparing food. A local bakery had supplied some bread and sandwiches. The tables were lined up with tablecloths draped over them. I carried the finished sandwiches, pies and cakes and equally distributed them along the tables. It was time for people to start arriving and I took tea and coffee orders. In the end it was easier to take out a batch of each and hand them out depending on peoples preferences. Everyone seemed very friendly. While those dropping in had something to eat they filled in a form to select 8 items. These were all tinned and dried goods and included tea, coffee and long life milk. I helped behind the counter to bag up the 8 items on each of the lists from what was available. We ran out of tinned meat quite quickly which was a shame but I managed to collect the rest. Other volunteers chatted to the people as they had their food and hot drinks. I came to sit down and I did some colouring with some children while we chatted. One of the children said he was hungry so another volunteer sorted out something to eat for him. They said goodbye and headed off home while two men to my left chatted about football and how much footballers earn. Most people left after an hour or so and then there were a few latecomers. One man apologised for being late and happily did the hovering by way of an apology. Once everyone had left we packed away the food and some volunteers packaged up some basic emergency food packs for the referrals. As the foodbank covers more remote areas the volunteers during the week often deliver the emergency food parcels directly to people’s homes. Peter who helps coordinate the foodbank said that all donations are extremely welcome but they would be happy to receive more long life milk, tea, coffee, sugar and tinned meat alongside the other tinned donations.

The volunteers were as different as the visitors to the foodbank; each with different reasons for being there but ultimately each wanting to help others. As I left I pondered that it was only fitting that I had donated tuna to the bread of life as it reminded me of the feeding of the 5000, although I hadn’t thought about it at the time. The foodbank brought home to me, as many of the volunteering experiences have so far, that we have a desire to help others which seems to be within each of us. The very thought of someone not having enough to eat is very saddening. Yet the bustling drop in at St James’ with the friendly volunteers is a heart warming start to the year. I think I might go and buy them a couple of tins of corned beef to help stock the cupboards.