A hidden problem

Living where we do on this side of town you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no poverty.  Affluent Midlands university town, leafy and suburban, nice housing estates.   There are no beggars in town and noone sleeping in doorways.  Well at least not obviously.  So I thought until I helped out at a food parcels service in town today.  Joseph’s Storehouse provide an essential service to homeless and disadvantaged people. I went along to see what they do.

As I entered there were half a dozen volunteers filling carrier bags with food. Huge bags everywhere.  Fruit, vegetables, tins, toiletries.  Clothes and shoes piled up on shelves.  At a certain time the doors opened and people filed in, orderly and quiet.  Individuals and families.  One volunteer checked benefits’ documents. Occasionaly people would apologise for not having them and be requested to bring them next time.  They still got their food. No-one was turned away.

I helped out on bread.  A volunteer would shout ‘Family’ or ‘Single’ and I would throw the relevant size of bag.  A Mr Brown wanted only brown bread.  Was that really his name?  A young man explained that his child’s birthday was coming up.  He was given a birthday cake.  One man asked for toilet rolls.  He was given one out of a pack of four.  One elderly man asked for a new toothbrush.  Another man came back and asked if they had any trainers.  He took a pair away, maybe not his size.  Everyday items.

Why such great need?  People waiting for benefits to come through.  Others denied benefits.  Maybe can’t survive on what they have. Homeless.  Addicts.  People with mental health issues.  Just people at the end of the day.

All the food is provided by one local supermarket and one local businessman benefactor.  More food could be provided if the legislation wasn’t so strict.  As we know food retailers thrown away tons of food.  Just past its sell by date. Not green, mouldy or unhealthy. Just not as perfect as consumers are used to. Most retailers spoil the dye with blue dye.  It is sent to contribute to bio-fuel, apparently.  Every Tuesday and Thursday these people come for food. Few ask for more than they are given. ‘I don’t want to be greedy’ were common remarks. One man took his food away and then returned to say thank you. Much appreciated, the volunteers agreed.

When I was 11 I went  to a convent grammar school on the poor side of South Manchester.  About as far-removed from ‘footballers’ wives’ South Manchester as you can imagine.  Priggish and snooty we must have seemed to the queues of people who turned up at lunchtime for the leftover dinners we refused to eat.  The nuns served the people patiently. Everyone went away with something.  Just like today. Only this was 50 years ago. The queues will only get longer.

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