The steering committee of Pontypridd Foodbank met last week. Over the past two years since it began in February 2012, 3085 people have received emergency food – a third of these being children. More than 26,000 Kg of food has been collected and almost 20,000 distributed. With the growing need for storage capacity (and in order to organise the stock according to type of food and ‘use by’ date) St Luke’s Church now has two large, walk – in containers in its grounds and a third is being ordered.
Individuals are referred from local agencies who fill out a voucher which states, broadly the reason for the referral . Changes to benefits and benefit delays account for more than half of these.
The Iona Community magazine ‘Coracle’ ran an article by Liz Dowler in its Winter issue with the reminder that the biblical message is not only to ‘feed the hungry’ but also to understand and address why people are hungry. She outlines some key reasons:
Low wages and insecure jobs are contributing to the rising numbers using food banks. Ironically the food industry is one of the culprits, keeping wages low in order to ensure competitive low food prices in our shops and often favouring zero hours contracts and a non unionised workforce.
Recent government austerity measures, in the wake of the banking crisis, has further reduced household income for many, with working hours being reduced to avoid redundancies, and a loss of jobs ( particularly in the public sector, where many losing their jobs are women). Cuts have also meant reduced child care, elder care, and emergency loan provision. Recent benefit changes, as part of the welfare reform programme, are often misunderstood and often result in reduced entitlements.
What can churches do, other than ‘feed the hungry’?
Chester and Ellesmere Port Foodbank (Trussell Trust) recently held a local Question Time ‘Truth and Lies about poverty and welfare’.
“Some 160 came to question and listen to a panel of clergy, activists and local MPs. Those who used foodbanks were able to give voice to their experience of how and why people have to do these things, which all agreed offered transformative insights to counter myths told elsewhere. They also provided the challenge of how to enable, with care and sensitivity, the stories of those experiencing poverty and struggle to be heard by a wide range of people without incurring rancour. An action group, set up as a result, is inviting those with stories to tell to join it and speak, and is supporting food bank stories to be published in a blog. The action group will meet all local MPs to present their evidence and concerns, particularly over the relationship between food banks and the welfare state, from which the state appears to be withdrawing its long standing responsibilities. This is surely important action: to challenge those in authority, with power to do something about it, that changes which are happening covertly should not be done in our name”.
In Pontypridd, perhaps, we are only just beginning.