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At Bow Food Bank

May 13, 2018
by the gentle author

After our initial visit to take portraits, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I were so inspired by the community of volunteers who run Bow Food Bank that we decided to go back and learn more about their activities.

Taking place at Bow Church each Monday morning, this is an independent food bank which means vouchers from the Department of Work & Pensions are not required, anyone who is in need of food can come and ask for help. Assistance to those in crisis is offered in the form of ten items of grocery every other week for up to fifteen visits.

If you would like to donate or volunteer, visit Bow Food Bank

Every Sunday after evening service and mass are concluded in Bow, a chain of volunteers wheel trolleys of food across the road from the Catholic church of Our Lady & St Catherine of Siena to the nearby Anglican church of St Mary & Holy Trinity which sits upon an island in the middle of the road. The unusual situation of this ancient building means that direct deliveries are not possible and thus a unique Sunday ritual has arisen, transporting the food bank supplies from the church where they are delivered to the church where they are distributed. Once the food arrives, the volunteers organise it upon tables in the vestry while the choir practises in the nave and very soon preparations are complete for the food bank which takes place each Monday morning.

Francisco Rebello

Jagmohan Bhakar brings fresh vegetables on behalf of the Gudwara in Campbell Rd

Father Javier Ruiz- Ortiz

Peter Danielle

Alick Phillips, Volunteer – “Originally, I was a client here because I was in need of food when I was going through a tough time. This is different from other food banks because they don’t just give you food and rush you out, you can sit and have a sandwich and a coffee and get legal advice about benefits and housing. When I came here I found the volunteers took an interest in my situation. I was having money problems because my benefit was suspended and I had some personal problems too. I found I could talk to the volunteers and they helped me in my recovery and getting back on my feet. So I felt I wanted to put something back, that’s why I volunteered to help after my visits were up. I am forty-eight years old – I have two grandchildren – and I was born in Forest Gate and have lived in the East End around Stratford and Canning Town all my life. I have been volunteering weekly for over a year and I really enjoy it, I feel privileged to be around these people. It changed my life, coming here, and now I have got back to where I wanted to be.”

Chrystabel Austin, Volunteer “I got involved in the Food Bank because I had a very bad year when my mother died and then my husband died. I came to Bow Church at the end of that year and started volunteering at the Food Bank. I am glad it’s on a Monday because it is a very good way to start the week. I think food banks are important and sadly are here to stay. They are mopping up what the government is causing to happen. With Universal Credit being rolled out we are seeing more and more people every week. We try to make them feel human again. I am usually at the door, greeting people. For many people it is hard to come here. We have people in tears because they are ashamed.  A lot of people now are living only a couple of months from financial meltdown. With the amount of debt people carry, you only need to lose your job or be ill and it spirals out of control, and people can lose their partner, their family and their home. In particular, single men find themselves at the bottom of the priority list. There was an educated young man who came in and, when I asked him if he had been here before, he said, ‘No, I almost came a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t have the courage to walk in. – I’m so ashamed that I am in this situation.’ He had got into a muddle at work, got into debt and lost his flat. He was in this morning and he’s climbing back out of it already. I know he will be alright because he speaks four languages. Now he wants to come back as a volunteer, which will be very useful for us with the languages.”

Peter Marshall, Volunteer – “I am a member of this church so when the Food Bank started eighteen months ago, my wife Elizabeth suggested I come down here and help on a Monday. Each client is given ten tickets and they can pick ten items from the store which they put in a basket and then I check them off the list so we have record for reordering. At the end of the morning, I add it all up and do a weekly stock check. I get a sense of being useful by doing this. I have nothing else to do and I don’t want to sit with my feet up, I prefer to be involved in something worthwhile. Where else would these people go?”

Shamin Khan, Volunteer – “I work the night shift at McDonald’s in Bow until seven or eight and then come here to do my volunteer work each Monday. When I came from Milan in 2017, I was in big trouble, I had no work and I was struggling. I came to Bow Church for help and they inspired me. They said, ‘If you have nothing to do, you can come here and help us.’ So I have come every week since to volunteer. They helped me, so I want to help other people. We are just human beings and we have to share with each other. Poor people deserve to live on our beautiful earth too. They need some help and some food. It is only a short journey of a few months and then things may get better for them – like they did for me – and they can come and help others. This is my philosophy.”

Amanda Claremont, Former Church Warden – “I was very skeptical about the Food Bank when it started because once you open a food bank you cannot close it – the need is always there. Food banks are manifestation of many things about late Capitalism that shouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, I found myself here when they were asking for volunteers to help. I have always served tea, coffee and cakes, so I said, ‘I will do hospitality,’ and I have done that every week since the start of the Food Bank. I walked the Camino de Santiago and that was what I learnt on my pilgrimage, ‘You should always offer hospitality to strangers.’ A food bank is one tiny way of putting right what is a cruel injustice, it is the least we can do.”

Once a month, volunteers sit down for a modest snack lunch to discuss their work and share experiences

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You may also like to take a look at

Sarah Ainslie’s Bow Food Bank Portraits

17 Responses leave one →
  1. May 13, 2018

    It’s wonderful to see so many people working together to help those in need. It’s a disgrace in this day and age that so many don’t have enough to eat and that the powers that be sit in their offices and do nothing . Valerie

  2. Shawdian permalink
    May 13, 2018

    Care, Humanity, Someone to listen and Be There, all traits we have within us and what we all need in our every day lives, so well done to you all at Bow and thank you for sharing. It is a sad fact Governments only look out for themselves and their next votes. When things need to be done it is the people that do it and you are are doing it well, I am sure this is just the start. We none of us can take health, wealth and what we have for granted. Bow brings hope.

  3. Steve permalink
    May 13, 2018

    I can only echo what the others have said. Today there is the George Lansbury memorial walk. I can only wonder what he would have thought about Food Banks 100 years after the end of WW1

  4. redandblackmanthinks permalink
    May 13, 2018

    Good idea to go back for a second visit. These people are simply inspirational. I agree with Shawdian`s comments about the government, and it seems that Mutual Aid is the only way forward.

  5. Delia Folkard permalink
    May 13, 2018

    What wonderful people, it brings back faith in human nature after all the awful things that have been happening in the world.
    Could anyone confirm if this is the church that makes a cockney if they are born within the sound of it’s bells? Someone I know who was born and used to lived in the area told me it was but others disagree.

  6. Richard Smith permalink
    May 13, 2018

    Thank you GA for telling us about these good people. Like others I find these stories inspirational. How sad it is though that there is a need for this service in one of the richest nations on the planet.

  7. Paul Loften permalink
    May 13, 2018

    Thank you both for sharing the human kindness and decency shown by these people of Bow

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    May 13, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for sharing this inspirational story. It is a scene being repeated throughout the developed world. Great pics of the volunteers too …

  9. May 13, 2018

    Such kindness is heartwarming. Good wishes to all such volunteers.

  10. May 13, 2018

    What a terrible indictment of the people who run the UK. In the 5th richest economy in the world people are going without food. The volunteers are amazing and a contrast to those who believe they need to run government in the interests of a rich elite. The beautiful portraits from Sarah Ainslie show the true humanity of the volunteers.

  11. Gary Arber permalink
    May 13, 2018

    I am glad to see Jagmohan Bhakar working for the good of the community, his father was a good friend of mine for over 40 years

  12. Ian Silverton permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Sad too read and see,nothing has changed in that area of East London,since I was a child,to think the Country gives away Billions of pounds to other poor countries to feed and help the poor,but you in the UK still suffer hunger,doesn’t seem right some how,hope more people,think about this,when they next see their MP. Good luck UK

  13. Susan Zagor permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Reading about your Food Bank and the comments of your volunteers renews my faith in Humanity. Bless you for caring, for giving your time and energy, and for providing people with food for their stomachs and their souls. You are making a difference by showing that there are good people who listen and advise, and that it is possible, even in these difficult times, to change your course and stop your downward spiral. Keep up the good work.

  14. Dave mcDougall permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, our MPs get subsidised, very cheap, meals!

  15. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    May 14, 2018

    The faces of angels. There is hope for humanity in the work of love and charity that they are doing; long may such community continue when the need for food banks cease, by the grace of God and the efforts of people.

  16. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Thank goodness for the generosity of those who give so willingly, whether it be food, or their time.

  17. Dennis Grant permalink
    April 9, 2019

    Can I come back to used the foodbank – if only to getaway from brexit !!! .
    permanent or semi permanent or until change in financial circumstances occurs or another 15 week probation / trial etc .
    ( Seriously though – no change in circumstances – still on £ 113 a week Employment and support allowance ) Your call – no obligation.
    Look forward to hearing from whoever .
    Dennis Grant .
    0208 969 5935 0r 07368428452 .

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