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Viewpoint from Rev Nick Ktorides 18/09/2015 

Dove rightRev Nick Ktorides
Curate, St Andrew’s Church, Gorleston

Food banks - a health nightmare?

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”  Matthew 25:35-36
This biblical compassion reflects the mission statement of the very commendable Trussell Trust charity.  Paddy and Carol Henderson, a British couple set up this charity to help forgotten people in Bulgaria in about 1999.  Following on from this project, they were led to investigate calls from pockets of ‘hidden hunger’ in the UK
dove leftPaddy was moved to start Salisbury Foodbank in his garden shed and garage, providing three days of emergency food to local people in dire need. In 2004 the UK Foodbank network was launched teaching churches and communities nationwide how to start their own Foodbank. Today, acute income crisis has increased to the extent that the Trussell’s statistics show:- three day’s food was given out 1,084,604 times in 2014-15 through its 400 sites throughout the UK.  This, they state, is a rise by 19% on the previous year. Indeed, the Foodbank movement has become national lifelines throughout the nation with many more providers of food assistance networking. They have become the heroic shock absorbers in the lives of countless numbers of deprived and disadvantaged
Yet, recently, there was an article in the tabloid “i” (07 September 2015, p 11) shouting “Reliance on food banks mean Britain faces ‘health nightmare’”.  Effectively, there are now researchers out there saying that  those who rely on  food banks mostly or solely for their subsistence are limited to eating tinned, preserved or dried food which do not provide them with basic or standard nutrition to maintain health
Dove rightDo food banks, for all their sacrificial efforts, have to take the blame as well for causing health hazards?  Horror may be the response to that ungenerous suggestion.  What it points to though is that, in the grand scheme of things, those who supply charitably to food banks give to the poor less than what they basically need to meet basic nutritional standards.  That too makes very uncomfortable reading
What has been overlooked for years, and at last social health professionals have become conscious of, is that food collections centres such as churches and community hubs do not have the facilities or resources  to store and distribute fresh food that are vital supplements to any daily food ration. Or does the household health professional’s insistence of ‘five a day’ not have to extend to food supplied by food banks?
The report “Feeding Britain” published in December 2014 by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom, which was funded by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Trust, has raised the clarion call again: “Our findings are equally about a call to voters and above all the voluntary movement to begin thinking through the terrifying idea that hunger is here to stay unless all of us take our responses on to a new and totally different level”
dove leftWhat I have highlighted here is one new and totally different level to which we need to upgrade the foodbank movement.  Intrinsic to this awareness should also be the recognition that ordinary folks who bring their tinned foods and packets to distribution points cannot be expected to supply fresh food which can perish in a day or two without refrigeration at source of storage
There are other possible solutions such as, for instance, supermarkets and large catering concerns charitably redistributing fresh surplus food. So it is corporate bodies that need to demonstrate genuine willingness to respond to real needs of society and come to the aid of food banks who so unstintingly and nobly serve to alleviate food poverty and food insecurity. Corporate entities have the means to explore and provide - are they listening though? Or would they prefer to wait for surplus food to pile up and mature till use by / bin by date? Sure, they can sell them at miserly bargain basement prices, rather than give to those who go without the food they need
You can appease a needy and deprived individual’s hunger with a tin of soup and a Mars bar - and still leave them nutritionally deprived.  If “Feeding Britain’s”   stipulated objective “of protecting our poorest citizens” (p16) is realistic it has to rise above appeasing their hunger and leaving them still malnourished