This week, Turan and I were pleased to be able to present the Food Bank with a cheque for £500 that was raised through the first MK Food Fest event.
Last summer, when the Food Bank was chosen as the charity that the MK Food Fest would support, John joined one of the committee meetings to explain their work. Being aware of the Food Bank and having dropped food donations into a collection box or trolley, it is easy to think you know about them and what they do. However, John was able to explain the day to day realities of the Food Bank and the people who need them and it was sobering stuff to hear.
John explained that the Food Bank is an emergency service, stepping in to provide basic food for three days. In a welfare state it shouldn’t need to exist but sadly there can be a lag between the problem and state help and the Food Bank helps to plug that gap. Often this occurs when there is an issue with a person’s benefits and the benefit is being reassessed, or when a problem comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. There can also be an issue with pride and people may try to struggle on without asking for help until they are desperate.
It is not possible for a person to just turn up at the Food Bank or one of their serving points and ask for help. For a person to receive help from the Food Bank they must have already gone to some other agency with their problem and these agencies can refer them to the Food Bank if they feel it is appropriate. This might be social services, the police or even a GP. The person can then go to a serving centre to collect their parcel. In 2014, 14000 food parcels were given out in Milton Keynes, helping about 5000 people. It would be nice to think that things are getting better but unfortunately the number of food parcels handed out has stayed roughly the same for several years.
The Food bank is a charity and receives no direct funding. Everything is donated by the public – either as money or as food, and sixty volunteers work for the Food Bank in Milton Keynes. Although we hear a lot about food waste from supermarkets and there might be an assumption that some of this food goes to the Food Bank, this is not the case. The Food Bank operates with non-perishable goods only and these need to be in date so food that cannot be sold by the supermarkets also cannot be donated to the Food Bank. Supermarkets can help the Food Bank by arranging for some of their staff to volunteer as part of their community days, or by having a collection box for the green charity tokens handed out in shops such as Asda or Waitrose. Supermarkets often allow the Food Bank to have a collection trolley in store but all the food that goes into these are donated by the public.
In the warehouse in Stacey Bushes, volunteers unpack donated food into organised boxes on racks of shelving, creating something that looks a bit like a basic supermarket. When referrals are made, volunteers pack up food parcels, which are then taken to a serving point and given to the people they were assigned to. Each parcel is designed to provide food for one person for 3 days and there are “adult” and “child” parcels. There is a packing list that the volunteers follow to create the food parcels.
Due to the nature of the food being non-perishable, it is not health food and there is an absence of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and other perishables. It is there to get someone through a difficult time. They may also be provided with basic toiletries such as toothpaste and soap. Often the person in need has ended up in temporary accommodation and in Milton Keynes that can mean a hotel room with no kitchen facility. The person packing the box is made aware of this so that the food provided is edible with only a kettle to use. This means that tins have to have ring-pull openings and they are also provided with paper plates and plastic cutlery.
There is no doubt that the Food Bank is a worthy charity and is seems appropriate that the MK Food Fest should help to support it. Having recently attended an event that saw the unveiling of a colourful mural by artist Catherine Healey on the warehouse office wall, it was apparent that there are many ways that organisations, businesses and individuals help to support this charity, providing everything from the Food Bank vans to volunteers, money, food, exposure and opportunities. On an individual scale you may have dropped a tin in a collection box or a coin in a tin but you may also like to consider whether you could volunteer. Certainly the retired couple I spoke to said that their Wednesday morning volunteering session was their equivalent to a gym workout and a teenage boy had turned up for his first day of Duke of Edinburgh volunteering.
Being passionate about creating and eating great food, upon seeing a food parcel the MK Food Fest team were struck by how basic the food parcel was. Sure it would help you through and allow you go to bed with your belly filled but it is far from inspiring. But, hey, we are foodies and food is inspiring even in its basic form. So we tried to imagine what we would, or could, do if we were given a food parcel to see us through. Down on your luck, hungry and possibly feeling embarrassed or ashamed, wouldn’t it be nice if in that parcel of ingredients there was also some inspiration and guidance to help you use your basic food in your basic kitchen to create something that would not only get you through but might even cheer you up a little?
So, food lover, here is your challenge and here is your list of ingredients. What would you do? Can you create a recipe using this? Can your donation to the Food Bank this year include the gift of help and inspiration and lift the spirit of someone in a dark hour?
Email me your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Food Bank picking list consists of the following items but the exact flavour, variety etc. will vary depending on what has been donated. Please note that someone living in temporary accommodation will have no “store cupboard” ingredients or seasonings to add to this, the inability to go out to buy addition ingredients, very basic cooking faculties and, potentially, limited skills. This food needs to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for 1 person for 3 days.
1 x Box of tea bags
500g Dried pasta
1 x Biscuits
500g Dried rice
1 x Pasta sauce
1 x Tinned tomatoes
1 x Tinned or dried pulses
2 x Tinned vegetables
1 x Tinned or carton rice pudding or custard
1 x Tinned pasta or instant noodles
2 x Tinned fish
1 x Spread – e.g. fish paste, Nutella, peanut butter
1 x Tinned meat – e.g. tinned pie, tinned meatballs, corn beef, Spam
2 x Baked beans
1 x Cup a Soup
2 x Tinned soup
1 x Dessert
1 x Juice – carton of juice, bottle of squash
1 x UHT milk
1 x Box of cereal