Working in a foodbank is absolutely brutal. While the selfless souls who generously give of their collective time and energy will receive some implicit reassurance from the fact that they are not completely inactive in the face of hardship, there is still no doubt it is still a place that leaves you bruised, bereft and bereaved. The reason is that those of us on the frontline see the stories beyond the statistics, the faces behind the figures and the names before the numbers.
Storytelling is key to unlocking our humanity. In December 2017, I decided to share some of these heart-breaking stories from the coalface on Twitter under the hashtag #WhenChristmasEqualsCrisis. The most shared tweet was from the 23rd December: “When a young lady prescribed the pill to regulate her menstrual cycle comes to the foodbank saying she delayed her period for over two months to save her paying for sanitary items during the process of appealing a benefit sanction.”
Our colleagues at both Glasgow SW and North Ayrshire foodbank got in touch to ask if they could share these stories on Facebook and, of course, I was happy for them to share it to raise greater awareness. In less than three days, it was shared over 3,200 times and reached over 350,000 people. Of course, these kind of stories have the potential to evoke feelings of compassion or outrage and sometimes both. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as it motivates a response that reaches out to others.
As I write this, it is the evening of New Year’s Day and I have recently been reflecting on the fact that 2018 will mark my thirteenth year in the fight against food poverty. In 2005, I was still in my teens when I helped establish a small church project that sought to take food to local people in a deprived community in Dundee. I never expected that the project I was helping develop would later become Scotland’s busiest foodbank and reaching in excess of 9,000 people per year.
I was once described by a Herald columnist as “the one man in Scotland whose ambition is to be unemployed.” There was an element of truth in that statement and there is no doubt that foodbanks will only be a success when the last one closes its door. However, we won’t be closing our doors until there is an assurance of measures in place that prioritises people experiencing poverty but I do worry that I could be writing a column like this in another 13 years time.
For these reasons, I believe we need a New Year’s Resolution to End Hunger. Over the month of December 2017, while tweeting these stories, I was also talking to a number of stakeholders to ask what they and policy-makers could do to address the issue of hunger. I intend to publish some of these responses in the next month but, for now, can I encourage you in 2018 to support your local foodbank until we become surplus to requirements and can lock our doors and give away the key?