Super sorting with FareShare

Earlier this week I had a fun afternoon volunteering to sort food at my local FareShare warehouse. If you’re not familiar with the excellent work FareShare does…

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FareShare recently had a Neighbourhood Food Collection, in association with local Tesco stores, to boost their stock. The idea behind the food collection is that when people enter the supermarket, they’re given a shopping list of things FareShare needs, so that if they want to, they can pick up extra items on their way round the aisles.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m no stranger to sorting out tinned food, so spending a few hours getting an insight into how Southampton’s FareShare distribution centre operates didn’t seem like a bad idea for an otherwise unoccupied weekday afternoon! It’s been a year since I was volunteering at the Trussell Trust’s warehouse, and although my role at Southampton’s food bank does involve sorting out food, it’s on a far smaller scale, so I’d forgotten just how weirdly therapeutic organising cans goods into different categories can be! My friend Ania and I were supposed to be there for a four hour shift and didn’t even realise around three and a half hours had flown by, we were so into our sorting! I just wish I’d taken ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of the crates of food stacked on pallets, as between us and two other volunteers, we’d made a noticeable dent in the huge mound at the back of the warehouse by the end of the day. It’s always nice when you’re volunteering to see the difference you’ve made! 😉

Ania and I agreed we’d enjoyed being temporary super sorters and wouldn’t mind popping back again later on in the year. It’s nice to know we’ve contributed (in a very small way) to FareShare’s brilliant work. But after hours of separating baked beans from biscuits, canned carrots from custard, and sweetcorn from sweeties, we definitely needed a nice cuppa!

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Christmas at the food bank

It’s been a while since I wrote about volunteering at Southampton City Mission’s food bank, and as yesterday was the last time I’ll be there until 2015, it seemed like a good occasion for a round up of what’s been happening recently.

We’ve been lucky to have got a generous donation of advent calendars from our local Sainsbury’s, which have been a nice addition to the food parcels. It was great to see a little girl’s face light up last week when we presented her with a Hello Kitty advent calendar, although her dad did confess she already had one at home! Well, you can never have too many treats around this time of year, and the adults have also been getting festive food as part of their parcel, such as Christmas puddings, Christmas cake, mince pies and variety packs of chocolates. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s lovely to be able to give people something that’s going to make them smile and that they will enjoy eating, as well as the usual food we distribute.

Some of the other volunteers have told me that the run up to Christmas last year got a bit crazy, with people having to queue up to get their food parcel. Monday was pretty busy, and now I’ve started working on the front desk for part of the day, things can get hectic. While I’m on the desk, I have to take calls from referral agencies and anyone else who phones up with a query. Referral agencies usually ask us before issuing a client with a voucher, so that we can check our database to see if the client has been given a food parcel before, and if so, how many. I also have to greet clients when they come in, make sure they get a hot drink if they want one and take down their food preferences, before passing over the voucher to another volunteer to make up the parcel. The information on the paper vouchers then has to be entered on our computer system. All of these tasks are straightforward enough, but trying to keep on top of them simultaneously is a good exercise in multitasking! I’m enjoying finding out more about how the whole system works however, and learning how to deal with problems or unusual cases that come up.

Being Christmas, and with all the media attention food banks have been attracting recently, we’ve had two reporters from local radio stations visiting in the past month. I was sorely tempted to get my five minutes of fame today by agreeing to do an interview, but sensibly referred the guy on to our food bank manager… I’m sure no good would have come out of me trying to spout intelligent sound bites, even if only on local radio!

People can be extremely generous at this time of year, and I know friends who buy the Big Issue, for example, or donate money, or buy charity Christmas cards or presents. It’s wonderful that we are so charitable in the UK and there are no end of good causes to support. As I say goodbye to SCM for 2014 though, what I really hope is that anyone reading this will spare a brief thought on Christmas Day for the many people who sadly aren’t going to be able to have Christmas dinner this year. Those of us who will have full plates and full stomachs don’t always appreciate how lucky we are.

Food poverty and food waste: a shameful paradox

A Parliamentary report – backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Mail on Sunday – and due to be released tomorrow, will detail how UK hunger can be ended by 2050. This brilliantly written blog post from Wonky Veg sums up some of the reasons why the UK has seen a rise in food bank usage, and explains why food banks aren’t a long term solution to (food) poverty.

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The UK is the seventh richest country in the world, yet grotesque levels of inequality keeps rearing its ugly head. Unblemished by austerity, the richest one per cent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54% of the population, while one thousand of the richest people in the country have doubled their wealth in the last five years. This disparate pattern is unravelling on a global scale, with the world’s richest people seeing their wealth increase by half a million dollars every minute.

Yet while disproportionate salaries, shameless tax avoidance and a bloated bonus culture furnishes the select elite – hardship, hunger and destitution is a grinding reality for 13 million people in the UK who live below the poverty line.

For four million of these people, food poverty – one of the starkest signs of inequality – blight their daily lives, as they seek the reliance of…

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The Breadline Challenge: day 7

Having given myself a ‘cheat day’ on Sunday as it was my mum’s birthday (and there was birthday lunch and birthday cake to be eaten!), I did my final day of the Breadline Challenge today. Here’s what I ate:

Breakfast: Cup of tea (I didn’t leave enough time for breakfast this morning)

Lunch: Tuna & sweetcorn pitta and half a packet of instant noodles

Dinner: Cauliflower soup with some added soup mix

Snacks: Free (out of date!) crisps and a few Quality Street while at the food bank

I actually have food leftover from what I bought with my £14.70; obviously porridge and rice, which last ages, but also a tin of tomatoes, some potatoes and some carrots. I have to say I’m relieved that the challenge is over and that I can go back to enjoying my usual variety of fresh vegetables. And fruit other than apples. I won’t miss having to put so much thought into dinner time, feeling hungry between meals or worrying whether my food will see me through the week.

So is it possible to live off around £15 worth of food per week? Yes – particularly if you know how to make your ingredients go further, you eat small portions, and you’re able to cook from scratch and are open to a certain amount of experimentation in the kitchen. Is it enjoyable or easy to live on a low food budget? No. Is it possible to get enough fruit and veg in your diet? I don’t think so.

Although it’s been a long and not particularly fun week, I’m glad I did the Breadline Challenge. Working in countries with standards of living far lower than that of the UK has taught me to be grateful for what I have. But this week I realised that food – plentiful and varied food – is something I’ve been guilty of taking for granted. I’d like to give myself a small food budget one week every year from now on, to remind myself of how incredibly difficult food poverty must be for people. While I’ve only had a tiny glimpse into the reality of not being able to feed yourself adequately, I hope it’s an experience that stays with me.