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Bow Food Bank Portraits

September 1, 2018
by the gentle author

Celebrating the ninth birthday of Spitalfields Life with a week of favourite posts from the past year

Alison Neville, Volunteer

“I have been working here about six months. I was born in Stepney and now I live in Bow. I started coming for myself when I couldn’t work for a while. They helped me and then I became a volunteer. Even when I do the washing up, I enjoy it. Many people are struggling in this city and the price of living now is unbelievable”

Cody Hopper, Studying Modern History at Queen Mary University

“I enjoy volunteering in the community. It’s not like a job where you get paid, your reward is knowing you are helping other people. I have made friends over the last six months and it is a little community of its own here. The food bank is not just about distributing food, it’s about getting people out of their houses and offering social contact to people who might be lonely. Once I graduate and get a job, I will look for other volunteering opportunities because I enjoy it so much.”

Irena Urbonas, Volunteer

“I retired after thirty-eight years teaching in Bethnal Green about three years ago and I was working in a charity shop but I became ill and couldn’t continue. Because I have been seriously ill, I can advise and support others with serious illness. We see all kinds of problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, job loss. If I can help I will, but I do not impose on them. It is not just a food bank, you can get help for problems and some people come back for the social life. If this was here every day, I would come. I love it. I was born in Bethnal Green but my parents are from Lithuania and I come from a very poor background. Yet I never realised I was poor because my dad was a driver so he could borrow cars and drive us around. My mother was very strict and she realised the value of education, so we all went to grammar school. It all comes back because I have been there, and now I can help in a certain way. You see people at the lowest of the low. I do my best to welcome them and give them what they need. It does humble you. I ask people not to thank me because I don’t need their thanks.”

Trevor Blackman, Founding Director of Ape Media

“I’ve been doing this since 2014. Supposedly, I am in charge of the shop but I am here because I enjoy meeting people. The first Christmas we were open, we had one hundred and sixty people come in. There is a real need. A lot of people saw their benefits cut with the introduction of Universal Credit. It hit people hard. We had people on benefits who are struggling to feed their children and that’s horrible – we give them twenty items. Parents go without food to feed their children.”

Ruth, Volunteer

“I just love it, it gets me out of the house and talking to people. People can come here for ten visits and collect ten items and some of these people are in desperate need. Many of them are working on zero hours contracts and not getting much employment, they can’t earn enough to pay the bills. Some of these people are gutted when they get to the end of their visits and they ask me, ‘Where shall we go now?’ They have nowhere else to turn to.”

Pat O’Sullivan, Supervisor of distribution of extras at the Food Bank

“After they have been in the shop, people come to see me and I give them extras, fruit and veg, soap and women’s sanitary products. I came here myself three years ago and then I became a volunteer because I wanted to help others by giving something back. Some people who come are homeless and I have helped a couple to get jobs and find housing. I count everyone here as my friends. All my life, I have been caring for other people.”

Robert Ricks, Volunteer

“I think this place serves a good purpose, people need our services. I am particularly proud that we run it with as little bureaucracy as possible and all the money is spent on food for distribution. We don’t rely on referrals, we allow anyone to come here and get help. I am a retired lawyer and it allows me to make contact with people and be aware of those those less fortunate, whom I might never meet in any other circumstances.”

Dan Clark, Musician

“I have quite a lot of spare time in the day because I work at night. I need to get up early in the morning to come here which is hard sometimes, but I feel compelled to do it. It’s a damning condemnation of our society that people are short of food in such a rich country.”

Lynn Stone, Food Bank Manager

“We are here to address a need as far as we are able. There could be a food bank every morning of the week and still not meet everyone’s needs. If we can do a little to help some people then that makes it worthwhile, but I am sad we cannot do more. It is embarrassing for us that people are so grateful, that’s not a comfortable feeling. We see that the benefits system is not helping vulnerable people, but pushing them into a spiral of decline and need. It’s so unfair.”

Lorraine Villada, Volunteer

“I do all the administration and step in whenever there’s a gap. I do it because I feel fortunate to help people in need. There are a lot of people struggling to buy food and, with the changes in the benefits system, we are seeing a lot more people coming to sign up. I have lived in Tower Hamlets all my life. I like to give something back to the community where I was born and raised. I worked for Tower Hamlets Council but found myself out of work due to illness, but now I have a new job and I hope I shall be able to carry on here because it means a lot to me.”

Debbie Cummins, Registrar

“I am passionate to help people and I have been in the situations they have been in, so I quite understand and I love doing it. I am an East Ender born in Bethnal Green. The benefits officers haven’t got a clue and people get pushed around and nobody cares. But my job is just registering people, I cannot solve their problems. Sometimes people come who have gone six weeks without money, we have homeless people coming in here too and we try to feed them. These are human beings, some of these people had good jobs and now they are homeless. We can see the problem. We see a lot of people suffering. This is the East End and we are all human and we have to help each other. We have people who have used up their visits but they keep coming for the company and a cup of tea because they do not see anyone else and they are lonely. I love this food bank.”

Bushra Bakar, Legal Adviser

“Many clients are on benefits or homeless, so I can advise them and help with other issues like employment and debt management. I did my undergraduate degree in Law at London Metropolitan University. Public law and employment law are my specialities and now I am training to qualify. I’ve come across a number of clients who are rough sleepers without access to benefits, often because they are asylum seekers without legal rights. I assist a lot of people in need and it makes me realise just how many people out there need help.”

Father Javier, Parish Priest of St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church

“This brings together the whole community under the umbrella of something that unites us all.”

Reverend Debbie Frazer, Rector of St. Mary & Holy Trinity Bow

“I am one of the founders of the Bow Food Bank. We did not want to restrict access to referrals from Department of Work & Pensions and General Practitioners, we wanted it to be unconditional so that people can come to us and say they need help. In the benefits system, people are treated with mistrust as if they were potential criminals, but I think they get more from being treated with dignity and respect. If people come here because they are in need of food, we let them know that they are welcome.”

Merlin, Most-beloved church dog

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I visited Bow Food Bank to do portraits of some of the volunteers who run this vital service and learn about their motives and experiences.

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

You may also like to read about

At Bow Church

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Ian Silverton permalink
    September 1, 2018

    Well done to all these volunteers giving back too the community in which they live,they and the people they help,deserve so much better, from the UK. You give away Billions in overseas AID so the people, like those they help have to suffer,it’s wrong and injustice gone mad, only hope the UK people,most of them tax payers,wake up and do or say something to those in power,it’s been going on far to long, and getting worse with time. IMHO! That is

  2. September 1, 2018

    Given the fact that, in relative terms, we are a rich country it saddens me that people are forced to use food banks. But, given the situation, thank goodness for organisations and volunteers like these. We must care for our communitues and campaign for a fairer society.

  3. Richard Smith permalink
    September 1, 2018

    All these good folk deserve a medal for helping others in these difficult and vicious times. Bless them all.

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