Hackney foodbank opened in September 2012 after a network of Churches in East London responded to the need for crisis relief. Since then, the project has been managed by Liza Cucco and has fed around 600 people. The foodbankers chatted to Liza about the project…
Why was this food bank started?
It was started by a network of churches in East London, the Shoreditch Group, that work together for social justice issues in the borough. They noticed that Tower Hamlets and Islington had a foodbank but there wasn’t one in Hackney so decided to develop one alongside Helen Moules. Before we opened in September it was in development for 9 months.
Whats the day-to-day running like?
We run two distribution centres so it changes on a daily basis.
How many people do you get per day?
Usually 10-15 which can be single people or families so there’s a range of people that we represent. All the parcels that we pack are specific to the individual so we go over it with them and pack a parcel based on the size of the family.
How much food do you receive per week?
It comes in batches, since we’ve opened I think we’ve donated around 9,000 kilos of food, so we’ve given away 4.5 tonnes. The rate that we’re giving it away is increasing as we’re adding on more agencies so I estimate that we’ll probably go through what we’ve got in about two months.
What agencies do you receive food from?
Schools, churches, supermarket collections at the major supermarkets in the area. Tescos has been particularly good to us. Local businesses also help out and the council has a collection point, as do most churches in the borough. Businesses in the city collect but it mostly comes from private individuals, people drop off food the whole time. Mostly anonymously and out of the goodness of their heart.
What does the process of getting a foodbank voucher consist of?
People get vouchers through a support group, I think there’s around 60 agencies. We just added quite a few, there are lots of different kinds of agencies from voluntary to private donations. I just signed up one of the policemen in Haggerston because he often encounters elderly people or those who need support. It’s a whole range of people, basically we are supplementing the service they are trying to provide but in the short-term, this is just a 1-3 week deal.
How do you qualify for a foodbank voucher?
You have to not be able to buy food. We don’t make the decision, a support worker does, so if you go to a support worker and say I don’t have any money to buy groceries, then you are given a voucher, but it really must be a crisis situation. The job centre is just one agency we work with, we also work with support agencies like SHP or Crisis and it’s also up to them how they administer the vouchers to clients.
What could the government do?
They aren’t paying attention. There’d be no need for foodbanks if people could get benefits in a week or actually had decent wages. You can try feeding a family on minimum wage but it’s difficult, even the living wage is very low to try and rise a family on. People don’t have enough money to be able to survive a crisis.
What do you think of Chris Steward saying foodbanks “merely enable those who can’t budget” and allowed people to “spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes”?
If the Government is comfortable with people begging on the streets then yes I think they should be abolished. I think that it would be nice if they were less necessary, I’d be happy to be out of work.
What do you think is the biggest cause of poverty?
There’s so many things causing it, you can’t point to one thing, wages haven’t increased with the cost of living. In London 50-60% of your income goes straight to your rent. This is only exacerbated by housing benefit going down, even working people can’t put enough money aside for emergency circumstances. So higher housing costs, lower wages, economic instability all contribute to poverty.
Do you have any rules here?
Yes the indisputable rule is why would you give something to somebody else that you wouldn’t eat yourself? Although that said I would probably eat a three-month old tin of chopped tomatoes!