In the first piece I did about the foodbank, I tried to describe how foodbanks operate, explaining away some of the prejudices people might have about them. You can see it here - reading it might help if you don't believe we need them or if you want to know how people get referred.
If you were to draw a graph in order to illustrate how busy our foodbank was getting then imagine the months Jan-April on the horizontal axis, with the vertical Y-axis as "volume". The graph would show a steady incremental rise over the last few months until April when it would go off the chart, like Nick Clegg on a polygraph. This spike is down to the benefit system changing. We just got busy and it's a growth industry, unlike say, real industry, which is fucked.
Almost all of my fellow foodbank volunteers are women over fifty. All the ones I've met are lovely and have a great sense of humour. It's a Christian charity, which I felt odd about at first as I've been an atheist since my dad died about four years ago. I was probably an atheist before then, but his untimely death sealed it. Atheist or not, we all have to sign a form to say we are not going to bang on about God when we deliver the food. I'd love to know how this form came about but I am guessing someone got a bit carried away and started banging on about God when they delivered the food. Admittedly, the ability to link stuff like loaves, fishes and Samaritans would be too much for most people to resist "I couldn't help myself, they just telegraphed it". Understandable. Anyways, it has changed my perception a bit, not about "believing", but I am very defensive about these elderly hands-on Christian people, I think they are doing exactly the sort of thing their main man set them up to do 2000 years ago.
I'm the youngest person I've seen there and I'm 41. I run my own business so I can get the time off to do this. I see this recession as a bit of a war. In war you have lots of different types of people on the home front. You have spivs who profit and try to enrich themselves - plenty of them around at the moment, snouts in the trough. You have collaborators - the weasels who actually revel in making the situation worse. You have the Resistance who protest or provide some opposition, sticking their necks out to fight unfairness. Then you have the Red Cross, where I think foodbanks apolitically sit. When my sons ask me about this time twenty years from now, I want to be able to look them in the eye.
Friday was a shit day. I had four deliveries and as I am new to this town I had to drive in all sorts of different directions, zig zagging around. First delivery was to some social housing or more accurately at the top of a big flight of stairs in some social housing. I got to the top and rung the bell, it was answered by a bloke of indiscernible age with a shy young lad my son's age (6) stood behind him. I explained that I had the food and that I would just go and get it. The young lad came with me and helped me carry the stuff up to the flat, he was really happy and laughing. I went back in the car and as I drove off I burst into tears, which is pathetic and amateur. I think I was upset because the lad was the same age as one of my children and that he needed food off strangers to live. I also think that I've only just started to admit to myself that the world fucking depresses me.
The next delivery was to another set of flats on the other side of town. The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was the smell of shit. It was coming from a drain about ten yards away. I'm glad we don't live in the 1800s when the poor lived amongst the smell of sewage, hungry in slums, demonised by the press. Oh.
Anyways, the person is not in, this really annoys me and I'm instantly angry that I'm angry. Furthermore, there is no reception on my mobile, so I can't call base. There is some reception by some clowns who seem to have taken over from Orange but every time I dial a number I get "Call Failed". I have to drive away from the estate, muttering to myself that are even denying the poor a mobile phone signal. I ruminate that the next logical step is to make them stitch a fucking P for Poor on their jacket. I call the person who I am delivering to but I keep getting "Call Failed" so I try and test call my wife, same gig, it's jammed. I'm glad my wife is not in, she thinks I should be at work and need to (topically) "stop playing Jesus". I switch the phone on and off and try and call base - I get through and explain the situation. Moments later a text comes through saying she's home now and can I deliver again?
I drive back and am relieved to see a Van embossed with "Drainage Experts" sorting out the drain. I deliver to the door, this time it's a young woman. One thing I've noticed is that almost everyone avoids eye-contact. They are embarrassed about needing this service. This tells me lots of things but most of all it tells me that they would rather not be living off handouts, that they would rather be working, earning a dollar, buying their own food. This isn't Ocado. Nobody answers the door and says "whoop whoop, the food has arrived, what we got?" everyone wants the transaction over quickly. There is real palpable shame here. This shame must boil the piss of the Daily Mail who probably think that these people arrogantly sit around smoking in their pyjamas, waiting for me to bring the lobster course. If there is a sense of entitlement I can't see it anywhere here, at the very bottom of the UK ladder.
Last call is to a refuge for the homeless right in the town centre. It's pissing down. I can either park on double yellows or in a car park that has CLAMPING IN OPERATION signs written on it. I opt for the double yellows, but the car park would have been easier. I imagine parking in the car park. Coming out I would see the Clampy Man, already having clamped my car. I would say "Hi Clampy Man, sorry, I've been delivering food to a woman in the refuge, she has become homeless and although that sounds bad enough, I believe she was running away from a maniac who beat her. Not only that, she has no money for food". How do you think Clampy Man would have reacted? Exactly. This is the world. I deliver the food to the centre manager, a young man who exudes a cool, calm and assured aura. He warmly says "come in man, it's raining". I know instinctively he has seen a lot more bad shit than me. Like the Christians back at base he temporarily restores my faith in humanity, for one brief beautiful moment.