Anne, 81, is from Oxford and volunteers at her local Food Bank. After raising a family, adopting many rescue animals, and working for the NHS, Anne tells us how this came about, and why she does it.
Ten years ago, when I retired from full-time employment and moved to a different part of the country, I had hoped to work as a volunteer in an animal rescue shelter, but unfortunately the nearest one was some considerable distance away. However, a Food Bank based at a local church needed volunteers, so I offered to help there, thinking rather naively that the need for such a place would only be temporary until people felt more financially secure in the so-called Age of Austerity.
I wish I could say that my chief reason for volunteering was the wish to contribute something to society after a lifetime of benefiting from free education and free health care, both for myself and my family. However, although this is so very important, what really motivates me most of all right now is the overwhelming sense of anger and frustration at living in such a prosperous society where wealth remains in the possession of so few and so many are now living in food poverty. If a country as rich as ours has a single Food Bank, we have failed.
Sadly, here we are, four years later, busier than ever with no sign of an end to the needs of people who, generally through no fault of their own, find themselves in periods of crisis, struggling to feed themselves and their families.
Contrary to reports often voiced in the media, these are not 'benefit scroungers', but often people trying to hold down two jobs at the same time, yet still unable to cope with such crises as ill health or an unexpectedly large bill, and they can be referred to the Food Bank, using a voucher system by GP's, Health Visitors, clergy, C.A.B. or any similar agency which sees the need for help.
School holidays, especially the long summer break, can be difficult for parents who often rely on school meals and breakfast clubs to provide nourishing food, and this year our Food Bank introduced holiday vouchers so that extra help could be offered to deal with this problem.
We collect food from churches, shops and individuals (harvest time usually gives a welcome boost to our store), and pack it so that everyone gets enough food to sustain them over a period of three days, together with the offer of further help if the need is on-going.
Everyone in the community is welcome, and the ideal aim would be if we could offer at least a meal as well, especially to those who do not even have access to cooking facilities, but unfortunately we can only provide tea, coffee, and a chat if we can help with practical advice or just lend a listening ear.
One aspect of our contact with some people who are struggling to make ends meet is their willingness to sacrifice a meal themselves in order to maintain and feed a much-loved pet. There is an obvious need in some cases for the devotion and companionship an animal can provide so where this occurs, we try to pack at least some pet food so that neither owner nor pet need to go hungry.
Another very moving aspect is the number of recipients who, when they find themselves financially more secure, return to offer donations, or even to volunteer in order, as they say, “to give something back.”
I'm still hoping that one day soon I'll be able to help in an animal rescue centre, but I'm also hoping that at some point in the near future Food Banks will no longer feature in anyones' lives. We live in a rich country and are often told that the measure of a good society is the way it cares for its poor and needy.
Judging by the increasing numbers of homeless people and those begging on the streets, we need a more equal division of wealth and a greater sense of empathy towards those less fortunate, while this should include the ill-treated, neglected animals who look to us for food and shelter.
Perhaps these seem like impossible demands, but, as I've already mentioned, we have seen many individual acts of kindness and compassion which can restore hope in what can appear to be a tough, unfeeling world.