It won’t have escaped many people’s notice that food banks are being set up throughout the country.
Food banks are collections of donated food that are distributed to individuals and families who are in desperate need of help to tide them over until the next pay day. More people are turning up at food banks apparently in such desperate need.
One concern is that food banks help create dependency. Rather than look for more work, or trying harder to budget successfully, people, the argument goes, take the easier course of a free handout. And if they play their cards right and there is more than one food bank in town, they can repeat this process on other days of the week.
However, most food banks have systems whereby they record who has taken up the service and only give food to those who are registered and/or referred by another agency and even then only one a week, or one a month. Most require proof of ID as well. This is not just to catch out those who might be abusing the system but is a way of making the donated food go as far as possible.
In my experience, the vast majority of those who do ask for food parcels appear embarrassed or even humiliated that they are in this situation and unable to provide for themselves and their families.
To me, the best food banks are those that use the opportunity to connect with the ‘customer’ and to provide practical help about welfare entitlement, debt management, budgeting skills, job opportunities or volunteering or training schemes.
Alongside the message of compassion goes the encouragement not to give up hope but to take opportunities to turn the situation around, as far as is possible.
So, rather than encouraging dependency, food banks can help motivate people to keep going when they are at their most desperate. It depends on how you use them.
Of course; it can be argued that Government Welfare Reform has created food banks and any fault for increased dependency lies at their door.