Dave Magill, Area Manager for Northern Ireland reflects on the ‘reality of foodbanks’

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I’ve now worked for Trussell Trust for 7 months. I had another of what I think of as my ‘reality of foodbank’ moments today.

We were in a meeting with someone who wanted information about how a Trussell Trust foodbank works. As we explained the model that we use, causes of food poverty and talked through some statistics of foodbank use in Northern Ireland and the wider UK network, I was again experiencing the contrast of feeling that comes with this job.

Working with foodbanks is simultaneously saddening, infuriating, uplifting and inspiring. Working with people of such passion and commitment to serving and helping those in crisis in their community is humbling and challenging. Engaging with the causes and reality of food poverty in 21st century Northern Ireland is shocking and crushing.

When I shared some statistics about foodbank use with our friend, I was shocked at how easily the number 32,000 rolled off my tongue. It’s just a number and I am used to sharing it; but I should never lose track of its meaning. Last year 32,000 people received food parcels from Trussell Trust foodbanks in Northern Ireland. With every number we count two stories are being told; the story of hunger and the story of hope.

Each food parcel that leaves one of our foodbanks tells the story of an individual or family who had fallen into hunger. It tells a story of someone brave enough to ask for help. In a nation this wealthy the reality of that statistic breaks my heart. Each number counted tells a story of a crisis; real people, with real lives, real dreams, real pain and real feelings. When numbers get to a certain point we can lose track of the humanity behind them and the story they tell. We don’t see faces in statistics.

Yet each number tells a story of hope; that when one person fell into crisis others were there to help. For at the same time as these very real people, in very real crisis needed help, very real strangers bought an extra tin of vegetables, a bottle of UHT milk or a jar of peanut butter and put it in a collection basket.

At the same time as someone reached for help, others reached their hands out to welcome them to a foodbank with a cup of tea, a smile and a biscuit. The fact that foodbank volunteers and donors are out there shines a little more light into the world.

Food poverty should not exist but it does, and I’m grateful for the 40,000+ volunteers who hate its existence as much as I do but will stand in the gap and generously give for as long as it does exist. I’m blessed to get to spend my time with them. There are no big names, no bright lights but there are thousands of heroes.