Stop UK Hunger: Ministry at the Food Bank

Villa Aquinas, Kidlington

Three Sisters from the Community at Villa Aquinas, Kindlington – a large village in Oxfordshire on the outskirts of the famous City of Oxford – volunteer at the local Food Bank.

Food banks provide food aid to people in acute need, often following referral by a health or social care professional, or other social agency. In the UK, food banks are run by a range of volunteer-based organisations, redistributing food donated by individuals, retailers and the food industry.

The UK is one of the richest countries of the world, and yet it is disturbing to read press reports about food poverty and growing number of food banks throughout the country, emphasising the need for the provision of food to families and others who, due to circumstances beyond  their control, are struggling to provide for themselves.

Shortly after the Sisters’ arrival in Kidlington, Oxfordshire in 2012, the Parish priest asked if the Sisters would like to accompany him to the Inter Church AGM being held at the Baptist Church one evening. Among the items for discussion was “The Food Bank”. When the Sisters heard about it, they made enquiries as to what was involved and how they could help with this work, and so began their involvement with the distribution of food in the area.

Sister Lucy Fitzpatrick with one of the Volunteers at the Kidlington Baptist Church preparing weekly parcels for people in need.  

According to the Trussell Trust, the largest food bank provider in the UK, between April 2018 and March 2019, their network of food banks provided a record 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19% increase on the previous year. More than half a million of these went to children.

Since 2014, there has been a 73% increase in the use of their food banks.

 

There are three outlets in the Oxford area where food parcels can be collected. The one nearest to the Sisters is based at the Kidlington Baptist Church which provides a large hall with tables necessary for the vast array of food boxes which arrive from the main store every Friday. Churches, schools and individuals provide the food.

Every Friday morning from 10am to 1pm there is a great activity at the Food Bank in the Baptist Church. As soon as a delivery van stacked with food boxes drives in, volunteers quickly unload it and carry the boxes of food to a hall where food boxes are placed on the tables ready for distribution. Apart from the clients who call for food parcels at the centre, other food parcels are prepared for people who are known to be in need – some are for families, some for couples and some for people living on their own. These are taken in the van at the end of the morning and delivered to the people in need.

The distribution of food parcels works through a voucher system. Vouchers are given to the various churches, to Health Care and social workers, to church ministers, Citizen Advice Bureau and family centres – anyone likely to come into contact with people in need. Those with vouchers go to the nearest outlet to them to collect their food parcel.

The people who come to the hall where food parcels are gathered are treated with outmost kindness and respect. Once they have introduced themselves and presented their voucher, they are invited to sit down and are offered tea/coffee and one of the volunteers will be on hand for some informal chat while their food parcel is being dealt with. In dealing with families, the number of children and ages will be considered. Each parcel is packed with a nutritional balance of basic food – the aim is to give emergency provisions to cover a couple of days.

All those involved in the Food Bank are volunteers, some are regular, and others work on a rota system. Our Sisters are among the weekly attendees. The volunteers are vital to the smooth running of the Food Bank. They list various food items coming in; check ‘use by date’; sort donated food into different categories (e.g. pasta, rice, tinned meat, tinned vegetables, sugar, cereal etc.) for easy distribution; prepare parcels; distribute them in the collection outlet; and deliver them to those who unable to collect parcels themselves. The volunteers are from different Christian communities. Working together gives the volunteers an opportunity to share their faith and give witness to Christ by serving God’s people in need. 

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