There’s something quite incredible that, despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there are still people who rely on foodbanks to feed themselves and/or their families. People who literally have nowhere else to turn and would starve without the generosity and donations of others. Yes, you might expect it in a third-world country – but here? It’s pretty shocking.
However, the reality is that here in Perth, our local foodbank handed out 38 tonnes of food last year – which helped feed 4,450 people in need. Those are quite startling figures, and you probably didn’t realise that so many people in Perthshire relied on our foodbank.
There’s also a misconception as to how it all works. Many people think, and I was one of them, that people simply turn up to a foodbank and are handed a parcel, before trotting off home to have their dinner and returning again in a couple of days. The fact is, you actually have to be referred to a foodbank via an agency, who provide a voucher detailing your entitlement based on whether you are a single person, a couple, or a family. Each food parcel is made up by the fantastic team of volunteers, created with your donations, and the correct parcel is handed out based on the individual’s needs.
Eleanor Kelleher, project co-ordinator at Perth Foodbank, has been in her role for just over six months. She was previously a volunteer and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and working with her team of generous volunteers. One of the things that she first noticed when she took up her post was the kind of people who are desperately in need of their help.
“One thing that strikes everyone here is the types of people who use the foodbank – it’s not always what you’d expect. People fall on hard times and literally have no other option but to seek our help. People fall on hard times and literally have no other option but to seek our help. We had a woman come to us just the other day who had a very large family to feed. She had never used a foodbank before, had always worked and she had savings. She was made redundant five months ago and pretty soon, all the money she had as a cushion was gone. I knew she didn’t want to be coming to us, but in that situation, there’s nothing else you can do.
“People can fall on hard times and be left with no alternative. I’d be absolutely delighted if my job became obsolete and we could close down because that would mean that nobody was going hungry and everybody could afford to eat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
In Perth and Kinross, there are over 130 agencies who can refer you to a foodbank – including the Salvation Army and Church Action for the Homeless. They will provide you with a voucher which you then give to Eleanor and her team, who will in turn give you the correct food parcel.
It's not just food that you can get there too – the foodbank also provides people with other basic necessities that would normally cost money. The donations come from the people of Perth, with Eleanor thankful that most are picked up from our city’s biggest supermarket chain.
“Tesco provide most of our donations and they are great to work with. We get things from the Crieff Road and Edinburgh Road stores, and we have recently started getting donations from the smaller South Street store too. We don’t just provide food – we also provide things like toiletries and sanitary products to those who are in need as well.”
Despite now being in a job with the foodbank, Eleanor began as a volunteer having previously donating some things during last year's Christmas period. She and her dad started volunteering in January before she took up the role of project co-ordinator in April this year. Around 40 volunteers support her, some of whom I was lucky enough to chat to when I visited this week.
Kathleen, Marion, Jilly and Jakub were all on-hand to help those who were relying on the foodbank and they all have different levels of experience. Their friendly faces and understanding nature help to make what is surely a difficult and quite daunting experience of coming to the foodbank that little bit easier.
Kathleen has been volunteering there for almost two years, and the former social worker thinks that there are likely to be more people who need their help that aren’t sure how to access the foodbank.
“Given my background, I’m pretty sure that there are a lot more people out there who need us but aren’t getting referred for whatever reason. None of us want this place to exist really, but as long as we’re needed we want to make sure that anybody struggling for a meal can come here in an emergency and get something.
“I’ve had quite a lot of voluntary roles since retiring but this one has definitely been the best. It’s rewarding and I really enjoy working with the others and meeting the different people who come in with donations or come to use the foodbank.”
One thing that Eleanor was keen to point out was that they don’t want people to become completely dependent on the foodbank and that they want people to maintain their dignity. None of us want this place to exist really, but as long as we’re needed we want to make sure that anybody struggling for a meal can come here in an emergency and get something. For that reason, there is a limit put in place for how many times it can be accessed over a certain period and this is also part of the reason why you must be referred from one of the 130 agencies who have the vouchers to give out.
“We use the referral and voucher system to keep track of who’s using the foodbank and how often they come to us. Within a six-month period, there is a limit of three parcels for each individual, couple, or family. We want to be there as an emergency but people can’t become dependent on us.
“There are so many people who are literally living right on the edge. The slightest change in circumstances could cause someone to need us – and we want to make sure we’re there for them in those desperate times.”
The team at Perth Foodbank are always looking for volunteers to help – if you’d be interested in helping out or want to find out more about how it operates, call 01738 626799.
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