I really didn't want to have much to do with it, as our parish resources were stretched already, and I certainly wasn't going to have any truck with coupons or vouchers, but when West Dunbartonshire Foodshare was born, I was persuaded that St Aug's could be used to provide basic groceries to those whose benefit had been cut or stopped, and who found themselves hungry with hungry children.
At first it was hard going, trying to fix times and commitments, helping people feel safe, and managing to separate those who were really in need from those who were on the 'con', but things have settled down and we are running a worthy wee Food Bank which doesn't use vouchers or letters from your doctor/social worker or anyone else.
The fact that the Benefits Office are turning people away and then sending them to us speaks volumes. CAB and Social Work are constantly referring, and there's a lot of need and poverty outside our door. Benefits are being slashed and ordinary folk are finding themselves in untenable positions. The Bedroom Tax doesn't help, but folk are having to choose between food and electricity, between clothes and rent arrears, with threats of eviction and all the rest. I think we may have saved one or two lives in the process.
I'm appalled by the amount of poverty we are now unearthing in Dumbarton and the Vale, as more and more folk come in tears, with nothing and leave in tears of gratitude with a bagful of groceries sometimes costing less than a fiver. Single mums and dads with kids, and sometimes even wage earners, whose jobs pay less than what is acceptable, and have no way of topping that up.
I hear there was a big Political Forum in Dumbarton last night, talking about poverty and how we tackle the mess we are in. It was nice to hear St Augustine's being praised to the highest heavens for the little we do from MSPs and all in Authority, but why have we come to this, that a struggling wee church which can't afford to pay stipend is being asked to bridge the gap. Is this how the Big Society works out, that you leave the poor to feed the poor? That's what it looks like!