On Day 4 my daughter woke up with her sore throat worsening and turning into a cough – it’s been going round the school since last week. I allowed her the day off school and encouraged her to go back to sleep. Despite her resistance I dipped into our budgeted supplies to give her a more substantial breakfast than normal and a few extra snacks. Having got into the swing of not eating much these last few days I was prepared to go without in order for her to have my budgeted food if needed.
I had already arranged with my friend Louise to go and visit my nearest food bank today. She works at the Storehouse in Southend. I have never been before but have heard great things and wanted to experience a little of what it is like to use it. We agreed that she would let the door staff know I was coming as part of my LBLUK challenge and that I would return the bag of food after.
So at 11am I went to join the queue of 30 people already lined up outside the building, nestled at the base of two tower blocks. A few were chatting, but most stood quietly subdued. Exposed, everyone was aware that onlookers from the surrounding streets and tower blocks could view us and all would know why we were there. By the time the doors opened there was easily another 20 or 30 behind me for this morning’s session. From today, an afternoon session has been added as demand has increased so much in recent weeks.
The retired woman queuing behind me explained how she has been coming for a year and lives 3 miles away. The young mum behind her tried to keep her 1yr old daughter occupied while we waited. At the door, as others gave their names, I had to admit that I was new. I was given a form to fill in on which I stated that I was here as part of my LBLUK experience. The staff member briefly acknowledged this and then explained what to do next.
I turned into the food bank room where 6-8 staff member were standing in between boxes and shelves of produce. We filed round the room and at each section one of the staff kindly explained how many items we could choose. There was unlimited bread which had been fresh the day before in Sainsbury’s bakery and unlimited browning bananas. There was a choice of compulsory items, mini corn flake cereal packets, or tinned kidney beans. I went with the corn flakes! In the next section, as I was told that I could choose 3 items from the boxes in front of me, my mind suddenly went blank. What could I use with the limited supplies I had back at home? Choosing food had become such a big decision. I chose a softening red pepper, 2 bruised apples and a bag of out of date potatoes. In the next section I could again choose 3 items – I went for a heavily dented tin of baked beans, a carton of eggs and a carton of Waitrose apple juice. The staff were all so welcoming, patient and gracious – as self-conscious as I felt, these staff treated me with utmost dignity, patience and humanity.
There were other items I could have asked for – nappies, shampoos, deodorants and tampax. Ladies, could you imaging having to ask people at the food bank, in front of a room full of people, to pass you a packet of tampax? Like most of us I feel insecure going into an unknown environment and this no doubt raised my adrenalin and emotional levels. But having witnessed so many people in the seventh richest country queuing an hour for food, and having hunger-induced fried-brain, this was my tipping point and as I left the room I struggled to hold my tears in.
Down the corridor the Storehouse provides a free cafe. I met Louise in here to reflect on the experience. The food (all donated I am assuming) was served and presented beautifully – various platters of fruit, a variety of filled rolls, cakes and pastries and hot bacon rolls. Again the staff were fantastic with no hint of begrudging people food, more a desire to ensure everyone has enough.
I asked Louise how I should return the bag of food, but she told me that the Stoehouse wanted those doing LBLUK to keep them. Part of me felt bad – am I failing the challenge? But part of me was relieved. Perhaps my unwell daughter could have a few treats to help her get over this cough and cold? I returned home to find her asleep, so I popped a couple of the potatoes into the oven and when she woke she had her favourite meal, jacket potatoes and beans, followed by her favourite fruit, banana 🙂
I will stop this post here. More reflections to follow. The amount we would normally have spent on our weekly shop between us is begin donated to the Storehouse.
3 slice bread 7.5p
Tea bags x 3 1p
Milk in tea 8p
Egg sandwich from the Storehouse – free
Fruit form the Storehouse – free
Quarter onion 3p
Red pepper – free from Storehouse
(if items used from Storehouse were paid for, I suspect total would still have been under £1)
1 egg 16.5p
4 slices of bread 10p
2 bourbon biscuits 3p
Jacket potato – free from Storehouse
Baked beans 12.5p
Banana – free from Storehouse
Quarter onion 3p
Red pepper – free from Storehouse