The Final Diary of a Food Club Support Worker
My name is Simon and I work for a national charity. The following is an insight into working on a food redistribution project across Bristol in challenging and changing times. Opinions and observations are mine, and are not representative of my employer and names have been changed to protect the brilliant.
The last post? I don’t know, I might revive this when major new developments happen, but for the time being I’m going to put it on ice.
I started this blog to record the sights and sounds of living through unusual times. Things have changed a lot since then, I am less in shock of what happened and more in shock at what is happening.
I’m currently sitting in Inns Court waiting for a delivery of 750 kgs of potatoes that was proposed to us yesterday by the Bristol Food Network. It’s friday, it’s been another ridiculous week and I’m tired. It’s been a week of heavy lifting (that is not a business metaphor) and urban driving and planning and organising and it’s all getting a bit frazzled.
The rapid expansion of Food Clubs a few weeks ago is over for the time being. This has meant that the clubs are beginning to settle, and our work, although by no means done, is to step back and support when needed, and let the clubs grow on their own. Our roles may also be changing so this seems an appropriate point to call it a day for the time being. There’s only so many strange food pics that anyone can take. Chrysanthemum drink anyone?
So to bid you farewell, I’d like to remind you of some of the many factors involved in the day to day running of this project.
What they do is so vital, they are disruptors. To be a “disruptor” is essential in fancy new internet start ups- a new and disruptive way of doing things. Fareshare have disrupted one of the most powerful global industries, the food industry. They have a totally different way of thinking about the food system and have successfully disrupted it. In addition to this they are brilliant people; dedicated, passionate and friendly. We love them. And their random crates of ostrich steaks or jellied eels which we have enthusiastically pushed to our members. The job they do is revolutionary enough, but add to this their support of their own volunteers and their willing and flexible desire to help others and you’ve hit on a magic formula. Truly magic. Thank you.
So this food project is as much about people as it is food. We have met some incredible people along the way. I can’t help feeling that what we read in the press and on social media is all the wrong way round. This not about any political persuasion, any personal orientation or socio-economic demographic. People care and want to help others. I appreciate that not everyone does, but my version of events has witnessed numerous micro case studies of people who have put the needs of others at the forefront of their actions. Go ahead and try to divide people, but honestly that is not what I am seeing in this city.
Take Kazan. This is the part time spud man. A man with a family background in the circus, who has moved into festivals and crisis management (sorting out other people’s mess) who has skills that not many people possess (driving massive trucks for a start). He decided to borrow a friends credit card, purchase a truckload of spuds and then dish them out for free to groups across the region on a 45ft flatbed truck that he drove up to Bristol in and slept in a cinema car park. With help from the Bristol Food Network his dreams came true and I have never seen anyone so joyously unload spuds in my life.
He wants to set up a theatrical delivery service, where acrobats swing off his crane, while he delivers pallet after pallet of goodwill. I’m in. Unbelievable.
He explained to me that he just knew he had to do something. That he had to utilise his skills and help people in a way that he knew. And this is it, this is what is happening ISORTBO — more of that later.
Food Club Staff and Volunteers
I make a weekly (weak) joke about protecting “the brilliant”, in the opening paragraph each week, but our staff and volunteers are truly remarkable. The volunteers have been incredible, we tried to protect them in the early stages, we didn’t want to put them on the front line. But without exception, they all wanted to do something, they all had a selfless desire to help others less fortunate than themselves. There would be no Food Clubs without them. Thank you.
The Children’s Centre staff have adapted to their new roles with enthusiasm and professionalism. They have trained for a completely different role and thrown themselves into it. They have helped to increase the wellbeing and health of hundreds of families across the city. They have also selflessly placed themselves at the front of the clubs, knowing that this is a high risk environment, and just got on with it, with good humour and care(and sometimes an obsession with rude veg). Thank you to all of them.
And to the people that make the big decisions. Decide what goes where and how it gets there. People, food, resources. It’s a fairly flat structure but someone sometimes has to make that call and the impact can be felt at all the clubs across the city. Thank you for making those calls.
Someone once described Food Clubs as “like running Sainsburys from your garden shed”. That’s a bit harsh, but we have had to improvise on a number of occasions; taking in food from generous organisations (Feeding Bristol, Fox and West, Square Food Foundation, Knowle West Health Association, National Food Service, Thali Cafe, Cafe Kino, Family Action, Jamaica St Stores and the Bristol Food Network). Sometimes, flying by the seat of our pants, whizzing stuff around the city (in chill boxes of course) to meet club deadlines and ensure choice for our families.
I’ve seen car suspension that looks like something from a California lowride 90s hip-hop video. I’ve visualised, then despaired at the pallets of hazelnut wafer biscuits that arrived en masse (still got some left if you want some…). This week we should get a van from the lovely people at Karshare. it could be a genuine game changer.
Our families have made it through these incredibly difficult times so far. Remember we are not a crisis response service, we were always set up to provide longer term sustainable support. There is a tight business model behind this. Our families are those that will benefit the most from a big bag/box of food. Sometimes it allows them to access affordable fresh ingredients that they might otherwise struggle to afford. Sometimes it gives them a chance to try something new, to experiment and enjoy making meals with their families. Sometimes, it will give them an extra few pounds to do something nice at the weekend. Although obviously, this has been a little difficult in recent weeks. When children visit the clubs with parents they are excited to see what they will be getting in their bag. Is there something they can nibble on on the way home? Their resilience and their positivity has been inspirational. They also think of others, often sharing recipes, dropping extras off to neighbours. One member collects 3 bags every week. They are also living examples of community, of those caring, compassionate acts that we have seen over the last 8 weeks.
We will most likely get through this ISORTBO.
Most people are kind, caring and want to help. This may be a sweeping generalisation but I’d rather not think about the cranks and self-obsessed that seem to make the headlines. It’s ordinary people offering up their support and helping their communities quietly and efficiently, not trumpeting on social media, just getting on with stuff. Doing things. Helping others. That’s what I’ve seen over the last 8 weeks. A palpable strength that is usually hidden. It’s staff who work and volunteer in the voluntary sector, social enterprises and caring businesses that will help us through this ISORTBO the actions of others.
I’ve read too much about this, listened to may too much ‘debate’ radio and fretted my way to sleep many nights. But I honestly believe that communities in this city will survive this ISORTBO. I’ve seen compassion that I’ve never seen in my lifetime; witnessed dozens of cases of kindness overcoming unbearable challenges. There have been so many things to worry about, to be scared of, to bury your head in the sand for. But people have pushed through this, they have pulled together to create new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking, working, supporting, caring, involving and doing. They make this bearable ISORTBO.
That’s In Spite Of Rather Than Because Of.
As a catchphrase it’s rubbish, but I hope you understand it.
A fitting end is this picture. 3 packs of fags and a face mask. It somehow manages to sum up the contradictions, graft, sweat, disgust, rewards and downright difficulty in processing what on earth has been going on the last 8 weeks. I’m angry, but lucky that I can channel that into something that makes a difference.