Colin Rankine of IFAN member Active Christians, based in the West Midlands, blogs for IFAN.
Updated: May 11
IFAN represents a range of secular and faith-based food aid providers. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Food Banks held a session on access to food aid for those with no recourse to public funds on 1.5.18. at the Houses of Parliament. Active Christians is the ministry and foodbank of Homeschool Social Enterprise. The ministry was launched by myself and my wife. We started off by making sandwiches and hot drinks to feed the homeless within Birmingham City Centre. At the time, we saw a huge increase in the number of people sleeping rough and so we took the initiative to support them.
When word got out about what we were doing, more and more volunteers came on board. We then established links with a mainstream Supermarket and a Bakery who donated food on a weekly basis. With their donations, we were able to offer food to local people in poverty from our base in Wednesbury and we now impact areas across the West Midlands. We currently serve places such as Cheltenham, Wolverhampton, Bilston, Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell etc.
As a foodbank, we do not ask to see proof of a person’s financial status, most of the time we hear about those in need through word of mouth and sometimes individuals approach us. We understand that you do not need to be jobless or homeless to be in food poverty, as they say, many are a few paychecks away from homelessness.
In September last year we became friends with a local resident who received a business card about what we do. At the time she was unemployed as she was suffering from a rare illness but, we did not doubt that she would get the medical support she would need. During her time of unemployment, we would drop a food parcel around to her house on a weekly basis as she had dependents that she could not afford to feed.
Sadly, last month (April 2018) she passed away, it was a huge shock for everyone as no one expected her to die. The family are still grieving and the funeral is yet to take place, but Active Christians have been able to assist by supplying food to her family who are mourning her loss. This has been particularly helpful to her teenage daughter who only received £10 from Social Services when they went around to visit her the day after her Mum died.
The Independent Food Aid Network have been a huge support to Active Christians. Through our connection with IFAN, I personally had the honour of representing Active Christians at the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)meeting held within the Houses of Parliament at the beginning of May, 2018. It was a successful meeting and I was able to tell those in attendance about the gaps within many foodbank provisions. Numerous foodbanks use a voucher system whereas we don’t because a lot of people suffering from food poverty may be working, but do not have enough money for the week once they’ve paid all of their bills, thus they ‘fall through the net’. So whilst on paper an individual seems to be managing, low wages and schemes such as ‘zero contract hours’ means that they may still be in poverty. This can lead to hunger and undernourishment amongst other debilitating symptoms. This can be a very difficult situation if a person does not qualify for a voucher to access foodbanks during their time of need. They also miss out on the additional advantages such as community support, signposting and friendship that foodbanks can also supply. By not having a voucher system at the Active Christians foodbank, we are able to reach these individuals who would otherwise be suffering in silence.
It has also been our experience that some who are not residents of the local authority do not receive any housing support and look to Active Christians Ministry for food, aid and signposting to other services.