Spend an afternoon volunteering for Foodbank, whether standing in a supermarket asking for food donations or on the frontline of a Foodbank centre helping to distribute those donations, and any pre-conceptions of the type of people who give, or receive, will be blown away.

There’s always a dilemma when asking for help, we’re told not to judge, but is it right to ask for help from someone who looks like they need help themselves? Sometimes, asking isn’t necessary. Just wearing the charity’s tabard, standing in front of a half-empty trolley of food and a pop-up sign that suggests picking up a few essentials for your local Foodbank is all that’s required. And, more often than not, it’s those people you hesitated to approach who cheerfully come back with bags full of food to donate. Or even a loaded trolley, as happened earlier this month when a lady in a wheelchair pushed her full trolley-load towards Bob Girvan, of Truro’s Foodbank.

National Friendship Day Foodbank“She’s so very kind, she does this every time we have a collection.”

Being there when food is distributed also shows friendship in action. On a sunny Monday afternoon, a diverse range of people walked through the doors of Truro Foodbank. Jago,* who’d suffered from anorexia and anxiety, didn’t want to get into debt waiting for his money to come in. He was itching to leave before he’d barely arrived, worried as he didn’t have the necessary voucher. But the team sorted him out and for their kindness he suddenly came alive, reciting some beautiful poems he’d written about the strength of trees and the ebb and flow of the sea.

Then there were the three young girls, aged around 15, living in a hostel, unable to go home, one of whom was still in her pyjamas. And then came Rachel* with her three young children, including a beautiful eight-month old. Rachel was tired and her family was hungry. Her ex-husband had stopped paying maintenance and her partner was injured and unable to work. The children were as you’d like your own to be, kind and polite, saying thank you for the juice they were offered and willing to help Mum take the much-needed food and toiletries to the car. No one who came to Foodbank that afternoon fitted any stereotypical profile. But each one needed, and was met by, a friend.

At a recent meeting of Cornwall’s Foodbank workers and volunteers, stories were shared of young professionals struggling to feed their families. One trainee paramedic was questioning whether he should carry on working as the money was just not enough to make ends meet and support his family. “Don’t give up,” was the advice from Foodbank, “Just keep coming back here.”

They also spoke of how they are working with the pastoral team at Cornwall College to provide food boxes to help with the growing problem of malnourished students. Not students not bothering, but students in genuine poverty unable to feed themselves, or, in some cases, their children. A fact borne out by Matthew Thomson of Fifteen Cornwall and Food for Change, a charity that works to improve people’s life chances through food. “We now feed all the students on our courses at Fifteen as we came to realise, after one girl fainted, that a lot of them were truly hungry, especially as it got closer to the end of the week and they were unable to eke out the food they had.”

Volunteers at Foodbank don’t judge, they are totally accepting of everyone who walks through their doors and fully understand that just making that first step is enormous. There is so much shame associated with not being able to feed yourself or your family, but as just one afternoon showed, it can happen to anybody. Foodbanks exist to offer help, a cup of tea, a friendly smile, a chance to talk and signpost an agency that can help more specifically, as well as emergency supplies.

With the Universal Credit scheme due to rollout in Cornwall later this year, Foodbanks across our county are bracing themselves for the consequences. Universal Credit represents a change to the benefit system, whether you’re working or not, in that all the benefits due are paid in one lump sum, in arrears, to mirror how a salary would be paid. In practical terms, that means that whereas rent would have been paid directly to a landlord, it now gets paid to the individual who then must budget and pay accordingly. All applications must be made online, will take time to register and verify, and should then be paid 6 weeks later, but often it’s been closer to 10. It is that time of arrears that has the potential to cause hardship in the short-term.

In response to this, Wadebridge Foodbank is demonstrating that friendship can be more than just listening and encouraging, but practical and constructive, as Jacquie White explains, “Numbers of people using Foodbank are going up, and food supplies are going down, echoing a picture across Cornwall,” she says. “We’re trying to prepare people for what’s coming by helping them to budget, be aware of the implications of taking out short-term loans and giving advice on how to present and prepare better for job interviews.” All of this comes under a scheme called Money-Box, that is available to all Foodbank customers in their area.

Jesus said to love your neighbour as you love yourself. Sometimes, that neighbour needs a friend, and a bit of help from Foodbank. If today, on National Friendship Day, you would like to be a better friend to your neighbour, remember to add a few extra things to your trolley, and pop it in the Foodbank box before you leave or visit the Foodbank website to make a donation. Be assured, it’s an arresting sight when someone is grateful to be offered toilet rolls and yesterday’s bread.


* Names have been changed.