Every single person needs food. We take that fact for granted.
However, a lot of people go hungry here in the UK and vast numbers suffer from ‘food insecurity’ – that is not knowing where the next meal will come from.
What is the answer?
‘Food banks’ I hear you cry.
Well, let’s have another look at food banks.
The first food bank in the world was created in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967.
Here in the U.K. a food trust were the first group to copy the idea in 2000 and they have moved on to become either the group running most food banks, or the template for how other food banks operate.
The trust group work under a voucher scheme which means to receive food you have to be assessed and, if successful, you will be referred to a food bank.
The food bank will provide the successful applicant with a box or bag of food which is designed to cover three days of need. The boxes have a set list of non-perishable items in them.
‘Isn’t that great?’
Our answer is a categoric ‘No’.
The first question we ask is - why does there need to be a referral system, vouchers or any kind of application at all?
How is providing three days of food addressing the food insecurity problem?
What are the food banks worried about?
Undoubtedly food banks have helped a lot of people in extreme need over the years and obviously that is to be applauded - but we believe there is a better way.
At BASIC we have run two food banks since March 2013 and we still have them.
However, we realised that there has to be a better way, a way which is fair and allows dignity and choice, while enabling people to get ‘back into shopping’.
It seems to us, that while the food banks are meeting emergency needs, they aren’t helping to solve the issue. In fact you could say the method they employ guarantee’s one thing – that they will be used again and again and again.
We estimate that a least 50% of people suffering from food insecurity would never use a food bank. The food banks know this but will not change.
The reasons people are reluctant are various - ranging from shame associated with food bank use, to simply not qualifying, to not being prepared to go through an, often intrusive, referral system.
We don’t believe there is any person who is qualified as a ‘food judge’.
So, our problem was ‘how do we reach ALL the people, how do we offer dignity and choice to the people and how do we introduce a WAY OUT of food bank reliance?’
The answer was BASIC COMMUNITY POP-UP SHOPS.
We knew the food was out there. We knew supermarkets threw perfectly good food away every day and we knew we could change society by making it available in an easy, sensible way.
To start with we approached the supermarkets and asked for their unwanted, but still good to eat, food.
Initially every single one said they ‘couldn’t pass it on’, it ‘went back to central stores’ or it was ‘against company policy’.
Now though we’re partners with Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose, Lidl, Morrisons, Waitrose, Aldi and more.
The supermarkets moved with the times and released their excess food to those who would put the effort in to collect it and redistribute it. At the same time traditional food banks kept to the same formula they had used for years.
So now we had access to the food, how could we redistribute it in a way which was fair, had value and would appeal to every single person in need?
We came up with the BASIC COMMUNITY POP-UP SHOP idea which meant we would collect the food and then place it on tables in church halls or other community buildings.
People queue up and then ‘buy’ a large jute bag for £2 and then simply help themselves to what they’d like.
Simple but extremely effective for many reasons.
People who would never use a food bank WILL use a pop-up shop. The payment of the £2 adds value and means the people maintain their dignity.
We offer choice and the customer uses their skills in meal planning, selection and take back the responsibility.
Sometimes there are treats like chocolates of flowers which customers might not ordinarily be able to afford.
We supply fresh fruit and vegetable which almost all food banks cannot supply.
We also supply other essential items such as sanitary products, toiletries and nappies.
The fact that there are no means tests of any kind means that absolutely anybody can come without any questions of any kind.
We started almost ten years ago in Felixstowe, Suffolk. We seeded and started four (sometimes five) pop-up shops a WEEK in the town. There are queues for an hour before opening at each.
The result has been a very dramatic reduction in traditional food bank referrals.
The very few referrals we do receive are for emergency situations and we are very happy to handle them.
Our posters are displayed in the local Job Centre, Citizens Advice and even at the only other food bank – The Salvation Army.
People in need are encouraged to visit a pop-up shop rather than have a food parcel which involves little or no choice and may even end up with the customer being given food they don’t even like.
We’ve been asked many times about the food going to the ‘right people’.
In fact one supermarket will not give us their excess food for this very reason.
Our view is that there are no right or wrong people. We do not believe in judging people and appearances can be very deceptive.
We also don’t believe many people will queue for over and hour to get some bread, beans, vegetables and a few other things which they don’t really need. If they do we’d suggest we’re fulfilling another need.
Our view is that we have to be bigger than that and realise that, while on occasion we might be taken advantage of, the vast majority of customers desperately need the
Being a Christian charity we look to the Bible for examples of how we should operate and, of course, the most famous ‘feeding’ of people was the feeding of the five thousand.
It’s interesting because, despite there in all probability being people of different status among the crowd, ALL were satisfied irrespective of their standing.
Human’s being human you can bet that some among the crowd would have said ‘He shouldn’t have any, he has an ox at home’ or ‘She has a three room building’. This is missing the point entirely.
The other interesting point is that when the disciples saw the people they said ‘They are getting hungry – let’s send them away so they can sort themselves out’.
The response of Jesus was ‘No, YOU find them something to eat’. This is often missed and whether you’re a Christian or not it is US who need to do something to help. Maybe we’re getting that exact same message even now in 2020.
We have developed to the stage where we’ve been able to open up in Ipswich which is a massive challenge for a small independent charity such as ours.
We have already opened on two estates and a further five or six are in the advanced-planning stages.
Our vision is to completely cover Ipswich over the next twelve months with our ‘franchise’ type agreement with churches and other organisations who wish to make a real change to the value of life of those in need.
Maybe the central thing we want to convey is that the food banks do not own the food. It is specifically given to them to pass on to those in need.
Surely the task of society is to pass on that food in the easiest, least judgemental way possible, while offering a way back into mainstream shopping and out of the trap of food bank reliance.
We have found that way.
'If this wasn't here my children would eat but I wouldn't' - Mother at pop-up shop September 2020
'I was in tears after being asked so many questions when I asked for assistance from a food bank' 'Tim' - August 2020''
'We love the way you pass on food - we all hate to throw it away' Supermarket Manager 2020
'The perfect way' January 2020