With the end of January 2023 fast approaching, the team at Epping Forest Foodbank (EFFB) wanted to take some time to reflect on the service we provide with our many partners across the region. Last week, an episode of Doctors on BBC One showed a family having to use a Food Bank for the first time, and what that episode showed was so different from the reality we see on the ground.
As a society, we know it is not right that anyone should go hungry or be living in extreme poverty. However, with the cost-of-living crisis starting to bite, higher interest rates and so many in our population struggling to make ends meet, the need for food banks has never been so great. 2022 was our busiest ever year, with over 5000 individuals in Epping Forest using our service, over half of them were children under the age of 17.
One thing that the Doctors episode did show correctly, using a food bank is a sign of a crisis point and often the first visit or call can be a daunting experience filled with a vast range of emotions. That’s why, at EFFB we treat everyone that comes to us with dignity and respect, everyone is greeted with a smile and a hot drink, no-one is ever turned away. We guarantee that everyone that comes to us in need leaves with a 3 day emergency food parcel, the contents designed by the Trussel Trust and NHS to cover all the nutritional needs of everyone in the household.
And yes, we do ask the people that come to our Foodbank some questions about what has brought them to our services, with very good reason. Our wonderful volunteers are dedicated to helping clients and are trained in, amongst other things; spotting signs of domestic violence, energy poverty, housing and debt issues. And when anything like this is identified, we can act upon it.
Volunteers make referrals to a variety of specialist charities that can aid by issuing energy vouchers or signpost clients to partner organisations such as debt or housing charities. In the past month alone, because of our signposting conversations, the people using our services have been able to: collect hundreds of pounds in Energy top ups, access women’s refuges in Harlow, gain temporary employment through job agencies, book appointments with audiologists, access specialist budgeting courses with CMA, access benefits advisory specialists at CA and VAEF, claim a Blue badge for free parking and much, much more.
EFFB are proud to be part of a network of organisations that exist to support the most vulnerable in our society. We will continue to welcome clients, with or without referrals, and help wherever possible to work to improve their situations. We hope that one day, there will be no need for the Foodbank. But until then, we will work our hardest to support those that come to us in any way we can, and it all starts with a “Welcome, can I get you a tea or coffee? And what brought you to us today?”.