College student Charlotte had not eaten properly for weeks and could not afford the gas to heat her flat when she came to the foodbank in January. After leaving state care she was determined to make something of her life and was funding herself through college. But although she found two evening jobs to make ends meet, she was made redundant from both within a month.
As a 21-year-old in full-time education with no children, she did not qualify for benefits. She sold everything she had and, with nowhere else to turn, she asked her local councillor for help; they referred her to the foodbank. When she arrived she was ill, dehydrated and in the first stages of malnutrition.
For Charlotte, the foodbank was a life-saver. She says she has no idea what she would have done without it. She was so impressed by the support she received that she began volunteering at the foodbank.
The Jack Hobbs centre is a community centre that offers a breakfast club and a holiday play-scheme for young people in south-east London.
Jennies, the centre manager, explains how FareShare is helping them to offer hot food more often. “Before, we used to offer a sandwich but now we can offer a cooked meal more regularly. A lot of the parents don’t have the time or money to cook a meal every night and we used to get complaints that we weren’t serving enough food to the kids.”
Jennies is clear about the impact FareShare is having, both on the variety of food on offer and the savings they are making. “A lot of the children don’t get fresh fruit and veg at home so we introduce it to them here. A lot of it is alien to them but they’ll always give it a try. Now we are working with FareShare we can save [about 40%] of our food budget. All the core ingredients come from FareShare and we top it up with the remaining budget. The savings will now be reinvested in materials and equipment for the centre.”
At 3.30pm the kids arrive and they are all keen to talk about the food. Adil, 9, says: “I’m a fussy eater but I like all the fruit we get here, I don’t like the spinach though!” Lilly, 8, adds: “I like the chicken and rice and I also love melon. I definitely prefer the food here to the food we get at school!”
As well as providing a meal, the centre also gives the kids the opportunity to cook for themselves. The talk turns to the homemade pizzas they made last week and Adil seems particularly proud of his creation: “It was yummy, I made a pizza with tomatoes, cheese and chicken.” Carly, 6, is also keen to talk about her cooking: “I really liked making my pizzas. I put chicken and pepperoni on mine!”
Just before we leave, two other children are keen to show us the ‘restaurant’ they have created. They offer up imaginary dishes of fish, peas, rice, yoghurt and cereal, and it’s clear that FareShare food is also feeding their imaginations.
Mother of two Suzanne visited the foodbank after her family’s finances plummeted. As a former housing officer, Suzanne had referred people to the foodbank in the past and never expected to find herself needing its services to be able to feed the family.
Suzanne’s husband suffered a nervous breakdown that meant he was unable to continue his job as a clinical nurse. Heavily pregnant, Suzanne was also unable to work – the family lost their home and were forced to declare themselves homeless. Later, when her husband was attending a back-to-work programme, a bureaucratic error meant that the family’s benefits were halved, leaving them with just £50 a week to live on. She told the foodbank: “It’s heartbreaking to open the kitchen cupboards and struggle to feed my boys.”
With finances stretched to breaking point Suzanne and her husband went without food to feed their children. The couple lost eight stone in weight between them and Suzanne had to stop breastfeeding because she was too malnourished. Having been given three days of emergency food and listened to at the foodbank, Suzanne said: “The emotional support that we’ve received is almost as good as the food.”