Saturday at my local Tesco. Tesco have teamed up with The Trussell Trust to allow local TT Foodbanks to stand front of store, and ask shoppers to donate items for the local Community from a small list each interested shopper was given, on one of three days between Nov 29- Dec 1st.
Tesco were doing their bit. A huge selection of their value basics range was on show, so shoppers could instantly grab items ranging from value orange juice to value cereal and put it in with their shopping; and after checkout then put the items into the donation marked trollies. Customer service staff were wheeling them away to the storage area and then apparently Tesco will match whatever is donated with 30% more.
Sounds fine in theory. But as I stood talking to the Foodbank volunteers, watching our MP turn up to promote the event, and then watching shoppers scurrying past, I felt uncomfortable on many fronts.
The Tesco literature and the tabards each volunteer wore did not mention the word "Foodbank" only the following "Together we can help feed people in need and build a stronger neighbourhood". On the tabards were tiny mentions of Fareshare and Trussell Trust. TT as we know are the trust behind the setting up of Foodbanks across the UK. I felt annoyed that the word Foodbank had been omitted from Tesco literature. I asked a Tesco employee about it.
"The food donated is going to the local Foodbank (I will dispute this fact later) but perhaps the term was too emotive for management to use. The words community and neighbourhood were probably felt to be more appealing to those people who wish to donate."
My view is a more cynical one: borne out of 3 years of the Coalition Government. Foodbank use has soared unmercifully since 2010. Using the term Foodbank was probably seen by Tesco to be too political a word to use yet in reality the food donated was indeed going to one!
The volunteers on the day I was there, were all elderly genteel folk, who were asking very politely to everyone who came through the doors whether they would like to donate.
I asked where the food was going to.
"To the local Foodbank." Said the TT co-ordinator.
"Are you certain?" I asked . "the local Foodbank that serves this town and Rhyl down the road is independent and not run by the TT. Will they benefit from 3 days of donations?"
"Well no...um.. We are from a Foodbank in the same county but as the local Foodbank is not TT or
part of the FareShare scheme they will not benefit from the collection at all sorry."
The Foodbank that was collecting was actually 15 miles away from the local community/neighbourhood of my own town and the Tesco supermarket.The local community of people in need therefore would not benefit at all by the food donations. I told both Tesco and the TT volunteers I was unhappy that neither of them were pointing this out to local people. Personally I am not bothered that my donation was feeding a family 15 miles away, but I thought that people donating foodstuffs should be in receipt of the full facts that this food would not benefit the neighbourhood and town that this Tesco is located in.
Independent Foodbanks, and my local one told me the reason they remain independent is to have control over the amount of help they give people. Ours for example do not have set rules on the amount of a times a parcel can be given. They receive referrals on the basis of need and much of that need is ongoing and they do not refuse people this help.
Back in Tesco, things were not going well. The elderly volunteers were trying hard to get people to donate but in a very subtle way.. Obviously they had a remit that they could not hassle people. A few
shoppers walked past, heads bowed to avoid being asked, but some openly said "I'm not donating to scroungers" or "People should get a job" and then walked off. Being younger I challenged a few people saying:
"Do you know 80,000 children will wake up homeless and in a B+B on Christmas Day?"
"Do you realise under this government half a million people will need help from Foodbanks this year compared to 24,000 in 2008?"
"Think how you would feel if you had an accident, a divorce, an illness and you may be forced to claim a state benefit. Imagine that benefit takes six weeks to come through and you have nothing. That's where a Foodbank comes in!"
I got very angry and worked up, not by the people who stopped and said "Sorry but I literally have no spare cash myself for shopping". I actually admired their honesty. But it was the well heeled people who walked on by that upset me most. At times I felt almost Bob Geldof-ish and wanted to shout:
"Give me your f***ing tins!" But couldn't in the confines of the shop.
I turned my attention to the mountains of value everyday basics food on promotion for those who wished to donate. A pile of white tins, packets, jars that screamed "This food is only worthy for the
poor!" Lying in the donated food trollies the anaemic looking tins angered me more. I asked the customer service advisor why Tesco thought their value range only was suitable for donation and on
"Shoppers may not have a lot of money themselves. We are showing them that a tin of beans, a carton of value juice can be donated with little cost, and people needing Foodbanks are desperate anyway..."
Hardly containing myself I went around the shop. I came across the tinned fruit aisle. One tin of value orange segments was 32p, yet at 43p Tesco branded orange segments were on a Buy One Get one Free so for 11p more 2 tins could be donated and of better quality too. A 1kg box of Family Kelloggs cornflakes was on offer at £2 yet the value box at a third of the size was 86p and worse tasting. After having flung in branded items and paid I brought my donated goods to the volunteers.
"How kind" one said.
"Not kind at all." I said." There are special offers in this store that donators could be pointed to. My kids like Kelloggs cereal so why shouldn't a child whose parents receive a Foodbank parcel enjoy the same quality? Come to think of it, why aren't Christmas type items like small selection boxes, shampoo, shower gel, on this list? Even toys for children. Baby food, baby milk, nappies, sanitary towels, soap, toothpaste.. The list goes on. Do people at Foodbanks not need these things too? Even pet food. Pets still have to be fed or they end up at the RSPCA!"
"We have to stick to the list given, but people are welcome to donate such items if they wish." Said the volunteer.
"But nobody is telling them this information" I sighed. "Tesco are making a fortune out of all this
promoted value basics range being sold over 3 days too, yet they are only matching it by 30%. Whatever happened to the Christmas spirit? A 100% matched donation would not make a dent in their profits,"
Why was there no one either from Trussell Trust or Tesco educating people front of store about the huge rise in Foodbank or forgive me Community Neighbourhood food need? Educating people and getting the wider message out on Foodbanks at this time is almost as crucial as feeding the people in need!
As I put my donated goods into the Foodbank trolley I could almost hear David Cameron laughing at me. You see you and I are "Big Society" in action. We are feeding people Cameron's government have turned their backs on. Yet my feeling of guilt and those of other donators are what is being relied upon. Local communities will not let local people starve and that is the bottom line.
If you are donating to a local Foodbank this Christmas, ask questions. Even ask to volunteer. A lot of volunteers are retired persons and maybe would welcome younger people who may have the mouth, or passion to help those in desperate need of food. This year 2013 we are aghast Foodbank use has risen to 500,000 people. Will we be disgusted or simply shrug when that figure reaches 1 million in years to come? I will be shouting from the rooftops - 'Why do we need Foodbanks in one of the richest countries in the world?'