The Lincoln Community Larder, a registered charity established in 1989, is not one of the string of the Trussell Trust Foodbanks that have been opening all across the country in the last couple of years and are regularly featured on television documentaries and news programmes. We do the same job, it’s just that we’re independent and we’ve been doing it far longer.
We hand out food more than sufficient for three meals a day for three days per person. It’s basic rations of mainly dried and tinned food, although we do try to include some fresh fruit and vegetables, funds permitting. We are always busy and 2013 saw a 43.8% increase in demand over 2010. Our premises are in Rosemary Lane, very close to the Lincolnshire Archives.
People are referred to us by local front line caring agencies such as Lincolnshire YMCA, Framework, CAB, Mental Health Services, Family Support Services, Health Visitors, GPs, churches and so on. We rely on these agencies to make the judgement on whether a food voucher is appropriate so we are therefore confident that the majority of our customers are genuinely needy people for whom the Larder is a godsend.
Many of our clients live in supported housing run by YMCA, Framework or NACRO and may have previously spent weeks or months sleeping rough or ‘sofa surfing’. A newer category of customer we are seeing in this locality are Armed Forces Veterans experiencing homelessness, mental stress and family-related issues.
The Probation Service and NACRO frequently send people along to us, and we strongly suspect that if it were not for organisations such as ours, these referrers would see an upsurge in re-offending amongst their clients and local traders would be shouting about increasing levels of shoplifting.
We are there for all of these people, and thanks to the charity of others we are currently managing to feed them all. But where will it end?
We are coping with the upsurge in demand mainly by increasing our public profile, which in turn leads to an increase in donations and funding opportunities. When we open our doors we never know what to expect – the second week in February this year saw a mere 40 customers, yet the following week we found ourselves having to feed 91 people. We might occasionally run out of one or two items, but on the whole we usually have sufficient stock to meet demand.
The bulk of our food is purchased using money from donations and grants but we also get a huge amount of food donated, not only at Harvest Festival time but throughout the year, with various groups and individuals popping in regularly to drop of bagfuls of tins and packets. In addition, we are helped out by weekly donations of bread from Sainsbury’s, potatoes from Branston Potatoes and ASDA in North Hykeham have a trolley permanently in place for shoppers to drop donations off for us.
We currently have enough baked beans and soup in stock to last until Autumn, yet every week we are having to buy several dozen tins of fruit, tuna, meatballs, peas and carrots.
That recent week when we fed 91 people, 25 of them were children. The vast majority of these folk were, or should have been, in receipt of benefits and had either had their JobSeeker’s Allowance sanctioned, were changing from one benefit to another, awaiting a first benefit application or trying to repay debts whilst on benefits.
We have seen a steep rise in referrals due to sanctions applied to JobSeeker’s Allowance. The “offending” jobseeker may have missed an appointment, or failed to apply themselves with sufficient diligence to finding work, but like everyone else, still need to eat.
We also see some people in work. They find themselves on our doorstep because their earnings, usually minimum wage, just won’t stretch far enough. The sharp increase in zero-hours contracts results in many people suddenly finding themselves with little or nothing in their pay packet at the end of the month, and if you’ve been living on minimum wage there is just nothing spare to put away for this sort of situation.
We believe our service is sadly, essential in this day and age with high levels of unemployment, benefit cuts and crippling energy costs. We also know absolutely that we are appreciated – yet still we have our critics.
A local politician recently commented that our customers queuing up for free food “don’t look destitute”. When you lose your job or your benefits are in a mess, you don’t suddenly stop washing and your clothes don’t instantly fall into disrepair.
Would those critical of our work be more sympathetic towards these unfortunate folk if they were instead sitting in filthy rags begging on a street corner?
It does concern us that we may not be reaching some of the most needy people because of a reluctance to accept charity, especially amongst older people who lived in post-war Britain and know all about rationing and shortages. These folk should not be making the choice between eating or heating; we have food to help them out.
The UK is said to be the seventh richest nation on earth, yet here we are handing out pasta and baked beans to prevent malnutrition in our own population. Something has gone badly wrong somewhere.
To make a donation to the Lincoln Community Larder, or to check our opening hours, please visit our website.