Food Banks: are we asking the best questions?

Many churches are involved in helping with or running food banks.  The House of Commons Library research says:

There are just over 2,000 food banks in the UK. 1,200 are run by the Trussell Trust, while 822 are represented by IFAN, the Independent Food Aid Network.

The Trussell Trust says:

This three-year study is being carried out at Heriot-Watt University and has identified characteristics of food bank users. It has so far found that out of those referred to a Trussell Trust food bank:

    • 94% were ‘facing real destitution,’ unable to buy essentials to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
    • 23% were homeless.
    • Over two-thirds had experienced a problem with the benefits system in the year before they needed emergency food, including long waits and benefit award reductions.
    • Over three quarters were in arrears, most commonly rent, and 40% were repaying debts.
    • In the year prior to using a food bank seven in ten respondents reported at least one ‘challenging life experience’ such as eviction or divorce, while a large minority also reported having experienced an ‘adverse work-related experience’ such as losing a job or a reduction in work hours.
    • Nearly 75% reported at least one health issue in their household, over half of which were mental health problems.
    • 22% were single parents.
    • Nearly half were single person households.89% were born in the UK, slightly above the 86% of the population as a whole.

As #distinctivedeacons we are called to serve the needy and give a voice to those who have none.  Many of us are involved in our local food banks in different ways.  But are we asking the best questions?

Diaconal Ministries Canada is concerned that food banks, while they do an enormous amount of good and help families and individuals at times of real need, are in the long run addressing the symptoms, not the causes.  They ask:

What if they are making people dependent on short-term solutions, focussing only symptoms while dismissing long-term answers and/or underlying problems? … How could churches look at partnering with local community organizations and supporting global causes for God’s justice and mercy to be more fully experienced?

DMC suggests that deacons should ‘advocate for policy change to get at the heart of the problem; it’s about a lack of income for people, not just a lack of food’

They offer these diaconal questions for us to share with our churches:

    • Whom are we serving and have we included them in our conversations?
    • What could our church do in place of food drives? 
    • Do we have the time (or do we want to have the time) to look into long-term, sustainable, and truly helpful ways of supporting people inside and outside of our church walls?
    • What resources are available in our community that we could invest in? 
  • What is one thing our diaconate could do tomorrow to move towards more asset-based solutions?

(Whole article here:

Claire Robinson, an ordinand in the diocese of Winchester, is really pleased to tell us that she feels

privileged to be launching a new Marketplace in one of our churches, in partnership with Southampton City Mission. This is a great model, called pantries in other areas I think. Definitely a hand up rather than a hand out….

Go Claire!  See what she and her colleagues have been getting up to:

2 thoughts on “Food Banks: are we asking the best questions?

  1. Both food drives and alternatives go hand-in-hand. If other aspects can be not only addressed but effectively rectified, (it will take a miracle – excuse my cynicism) the need and thus the dependency for food nourishment and an affordable decent roof over ones head can be greatly reduced .

    Why be so fearful of dependency? It takes a lot of emotional guts to admit to need in the first place. If the above support issues are impossible and insurmountable, other support networks have to be actively engaged for the sake of health, welfare, safety, decency and to give people a chance to survive and grow at whatever level can be managed.

    The reality is stark and the underlying broken structural causes are many.

    Liked by 1 person

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