Food banks: we will help as many people in need as we can

Foodshare charity in Maidenhead welcomes council investment as number referred for help rises fourfold

For food bank volunteer Tom O’Kane, there’s nothing political about charities running emergency food assistance. It’s simply about helping people in need: “Local people helping people locally.”

O’Kane is an unpaid director of the Foodshare project, a wing of the multifaith charity Open Kitchen, based in Maidenhead, Berkshire. It has carried out weekly soup runs for homeless people for years, but began providing food parcels to people referred to them by the local Citizen’s Advice bureau nine months ago. Then they were helping 10 families a week; now its 40.

For O’Kane, Foodshare, which is stocked with food donated by local people, is a practical expression of the biblical exhortation to “Love they neighbour”. Poverty will always be present, even in comfortable Maidenhead, he says, and he doesn’t worry too much about its underlying causes.

“We see a need and we help people. We will help as many as we can. If there are more people than we can help, well, we’ll help as many as we can.”

That his local council is proposing to support his charity financially to help it feed hungry people in crisis is simply a “wonderful idea”. He is unfazed by the suggestion that food banks might find it hard to cope with a dramatic increase in demand on its services as austerity deepens. “The bigger the need, the more we will appeal to the local community for help, and get a response.”

Last year, Windsor and Maidenhead council gave Open Kitchen a £2,000 grant from its “big society” fund. It noted there was a growing need for food poverty assistance “for those elderly and disadvantaged people who struggled to meet their weekly food bills and were pleased to receive a donation of a food parcel to help them out”.

The money was spent in building up the capacity of the food bank, buying storage equipment such as shelving, and buying “top-up” food such as vegetables, to ensure a nutritional balance with donated foodstuffs.

The council’s director of adult and community services, Simon Dudley, said localising the social fund was a “positive change” that would allow the borough to focus its resources more effectively on the most needy.

It will draw up its eligibility criteria over the next few months. Those who qualify for crisis help will be referred to local charities financially supported by the council, like Open Kitchen; to the Berkshire credit union, which offers loans; or local retailers, where they will be able to get a discount on goods such as food or nappies.

Dudley said: “We want to help the people who are most in need; what we don’t want to do is create a dependency culture.”

Patrick Butler

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