We cannot go on like this
Written by Andy Hurrell, Ardwick and Longsight Foodbank as the food bank closed its doors for the month of August
In what feels like a lifetime ago, I wrote two blog posts for IFAN reflecting on our food banks’ journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first post, I asked if things would get worse before they got better, in my second post, I answered that question, things got worse. But I still held on to the hope that things would get better. I am sorry to have to report that things have not improved in the nearly two years since my last post, and there is no sign of things getting better.
Our food bank is exhausted, and our volunteers have worked unrelentingly for years, giving their time and energies to those struggling to exist in this city. But we are tired, burnt out, and need to rest, recuperate, and recover. It is for this reason that we have taken the highly emotional decision to close our doors for August. We cannot go on like this.
The total number of parcels we have distributed is increasing dramatically, with no signs of relenting. By the time we closed our doors on the 31st of July this year, we had provided 3,840 parcels, which equates to around 64 tonnes of food. Prior to this, our busiest year to date was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 where we provided 5,475 parcels for the entire year. Had we not decided to close, we would have been well on target to beat this total, which is something to be both proud of and ashamed of simultaneously.
We are in the catchment area of several hostels that provide accommodation for those who have been street homeless or have issues with addictions. We are now providing so many parcels to them that we have set up an additional evening session for one hostel alone.
Our volunteers have been fabulous, some coming for a few short weeks, others coming and staying, joining our merry band as we try to feed our city. Some offer a few hours here and there, and others give almost a whole working week, working long after our doors have closed, monitoring the emails and the phones, collecting and delivering stock, and networking with other agencies to find support for our clients.
We love our team and are so thankful to them for all they do and bring to our clients. But we need to rest, we cannot go on like this.
It is unfair, and it is not right that the responsibility for feeding the most vulnerable in our city is left to volunteers. As we make the tough decision to close our doors for a month, I think of all those who may suffer because we are not there to provide them with the bare essentials of life.
We have worked hard as a team to ensure that we have provided all those who come to us with information about other places that should be able to support them, but I worry about those who will slip through the gaps.
Our government, at all levels, of whatever colour or political hue, should not allow this to happen. This increase in need (I’m not too fond of the word demand; our clients do not demand our food; they NEED our food) is far beyond anything we could have imagined when we opened our doors in 2013. Our society should not be allowing this to happen. We cannot go on like this.
There should be real anger and genuine concern in all levels of our society that we as a country allow the basic needs of fellow humans to be catered for by a primarily retired group of well-intentioned volunteers.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” This quote is attributed to many different people, but whoever initially said it was offering a moral truth. Our society, our nation, and our humanity should be judged not on how the well-off are doing or how our economy is or isn’t growing but on how we treat our vulnerable, those in desperate need. The need that we see within our food bank shows that as a society we are failing by this measure. Our society is growing hardened from the needs of the vulnerable.
A few years back, there was a big push for lunches to be provided to kids over the holidays. There was an almighty row (which was lost) about keeping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. Many groups and individuals made a lot of noise, and, as a nation, we mobilised to ensure that vulnerable people who were shielded from the pandemic had food delivered to their doors. These were all great and commendable, but we have all returned to our lives now, and the harsh reality of the cost of living has begun to overtake even those in employment. We cannot go on like this.
Our focus has turned to getting us, our families, our friends through this and out the other side. While I do not want to downplay anybody’s very real experiences and the massive shocks that people are experiencing with the rising costs of food, energy, housing, etc., try to remember that some were struggling before this all started.
This is the result of underinvestment and cuts to the services and support networks that once used to support our most vulnerable. These services were there for the few who really needed it, and now there is a lot less support and many more people who need it.
No one wanted to end up this way, and nobody delights in coming to a food bank (even if our staff are friendly and welcoming), but our authorities and leaders have much to answer for. We cannot continue to build our society by pushing the marginalised and the vulnerable to the sides and hoping that some good-hearted volunteers will pick up the slack.
Our doors will be closing, our hearts will be broken, but our bodies need to be mended. We must not, we should not, we cannot go on like this.