Avril Gearing, who takes the food we collect to St Paul’s Food Bank in Hounslow, shares her insights As a regular donor of items to the food bank at St Paul’s Hounslow West, I found myself frequently thinking about the growth of food banks and what food means, not just nutritionally, but also the social, emotional and religious significance. Then I began to wonder why I thought about it so much. I like to think that God breathed a small sigh of relief when I finally got the message and volunteered!
St Paul’s food bank opens on Wednesday mornings, alongside a free cafe. It is non-judgemental, inclusive and helps people of all backgrounds, with or without faith. No one can just turn up – everyone is referred by social services, local schools, churches or voluntary organisations. Each person is given a voucher to use twice at fortnightly intervals in exchange for a set list of food items – in larger quantities for bigger families. After that, their circumstances are re-assessed as the food bank is intended as an emergency measure – but the number of clients growing.
There are many reasons why people need help, including unexpected bills, unemployment, benefit delays, family breakdown and mental health issues. The cafe and food bank provide a supportive, safe environment where they can feel less isolated knowing that we care about them and their situation is as important as the food they receive. I am amazed by the courage and dignity – and often humour in difficult circumstances – of food bank users; by the wisdom and strength of my fellow volunteers; and by the generosity of those who donate. For me, the food bank is a very tangible demonstration of God’s love and compassion.
If you would like to donate, we always need: longlife milk; tea bags; instant coffee; tinned fruit, vegetables, meat and fish; cooking oil; pasta sauce; soup; rice; breakfast cereals; biscuits; sugar; tinned desserts; shampoo, toothpaste and shower gel; and baby wipes and nappies.