It depends on one's politics as to whether the appearance of food banks in the UK is to be, in and of itself, commended. Some will not celebrate the arrival of a food bank in Vauxhall because they believe the State should ensure that food is plentiful for all in the UK. Others, perhaps with Big Society or mutualist views would see that charitable-sector provision of services for people in need is preferable, as it removes costs and bureaucracy. I'd argue that services that cater for those the wrong side of the UK's income-gap, whatever your view on how such services are provided, are an important indicator that one lives in a shared society, rather than a free-for-all market. So... last week I requested more information from a group who have set up a food bank in Vauxhall.
Vauxhall Foodbank is part of the Foodbank Network started by the Trussel Trust, a Christian Charity. They've rented a room from London City Mission's Vauxhall Christian Centre to run a food bank / cafe for the redemption of food vouchers. "Clients" can redeem vouchers (given out by children's centre workers, GPs, housing association officers, religious workers and school outreach officers) for 3 days worth of free, non-perishable food. Food is collected from local churches, businesses, schools and individuals. Also, the Vauxhall Foodbank team gain donations by by standing outside local supermarkets asking their customers to buy one extra item from the foodbank shopping list. Sainsbury's customers reportedly thanked Customer Services for the collection and wanted to know if there would be another (as reported to me by a Vauxhall food bank volunteer), but I'd be interested in the views of locals. Have any of you been asked to donate? Do you welcome the initiative? Have you received food vouchers or parcels? Do you know of anybody that might benefit?
All of the food bank workers are volunteers (about 40 people are involved assembling food parcels and chatting with clients etc.), and the cafe is open on Saturdays between 11:30am - 1:30pm. The volunteers eventually intend to open on Wednesdays as well (same time). The first client (surely "guest" might be better?) arrived on 25th June, and 69 people have been fed to date.
According to Lambeth's draft Poverty Reduction Strategy (p16), 37.5% (18,615) of children in the Borough are classified as living "in poverty". (This is the percentage of children who live in families in receipt of out of work benefits where reported income is 60% below the median national average. That is classified at £294 per week for a couple with two children under 14 or £225 per week for a lone parent with 2 children under 14. All figures calculated before taking housing costs into account.) In Princes' ward, approximately 43% of children live in poverty, Oval has approx 41% of children in poverty, and Bishops' has 40% of children in poverty (p36). About 21% of children Lambeth (p32) (12,000) could be living in severe poverty, which means that income is below £134 for a lone parent with one child, and below £240 per week for a couple with two children). At the current rate of inflation, the need for extra food help to supplement household income is evident.
At present, most volunteers attend ChristChurch London in Blackfriars, but the services of the foodbank are offered to those of all faiths and none and they welcome support, donations and volunteering from everybody. There will be a launch later this summer, which will receive mention here.
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