Walk into a food bank over Christmas or new year and “hope” probably isn’t the word that springs to mind. Sadness, yes. Shame, maybe. Or anger that in rich, so-called “modern” Britain, such a thing needs to exist. But when I spoke to Jane – a volunteer at a central London food bank – in December, it felt like a bit of hope peering out amid the dark.
Things weren’t easy for Jane. Made redundant a year ago, she’d lost a job in journalism that she loved and was struggling to find paid work. But like many of the people I met last year – from Claire, a mum of three funding food parcels for families at her children’s school, to Louise, an ex-teacher running a clothes bank out of a local church – Jane was giving up her time to help strangers who are struggling.
Look hard enough and that sort of solidarity is all around us. Take food banks. Many of Jane’s fellow volunteers had previously used the service themselves and wanted to give something back. Each week, a Citizens Advice volunteer comes in to help those needing a food parcel get back on their feet: filling in benefit forms or checking eviction notices. A few days after the Guardian published the article about her, Jane emailed me, overwhelmed: they’d received donations of almost £6,000.