Student life can easily become an affluent bubble. My daily commute during first year meant that I hardly strayed from Endcliffe and the University’s world-class facilities. If I did, it was often only to Division Street, for lunch breaks in hipster cafés with my student friends who were equally immersed in this world. It is very easy to create the illusion that Sheffield is entirely made up of large, tree-lined boulevards, where life is laid-back and comfortable for pretty much everyone.
Volunteering at the S6 foodbank obliterated this illusion. It provides emergency three-day food parcels for clients and their families, who must be referred by a GP or another professional to receive support. As a student, I have often griped about being “poor” and “having no money”; this put my finances in a completely different perspective. Suddenly I am faced with a single dad who has four kids at home and bare cupboards, looking despairingly at me when I explain that we have no more toilet roll. I meet asylum seekers and job searchers who are absolutely desperate because they have fallen through the numerous holes in the benefits system and their income has dried up. I discovered that getting through the foodbank’s door is an achievement in itself. Booking a doctor’s appointment can take days, if not weeks, and even once they have the precious paperwork, there is still £4 that needs to be found for the bus if they cannot walk. Then there is the constant worry of finding long-term solutions.
Volunteering here feels equally depressing and a privilege. I am aghast over the nationwide increase of foodbank users and spiralling inequality in the UK. Yet it is also an honour to reinstate dignity to desperate people, and offer some form of hope. S6 Foodbanks offers debt management courses, fuel vouchers and free advice from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau professional. The entire process is done with the utmost respect. Clients are offered tea and cake whilst they discuss their food requirements with volunteers around a table. Whilst this is then packed for them, there is ample time for company and further conversation. Users often arrive haggard-looking, and leave with smiles on their faces.
The foodbank aims higher than just to temporarily fill stomachs. This is an opportunity to reminded vulnerable people that they matter as individuals; they have self-worth, and there are others who will walk with them in their search for solutions.
If you would like more information about how to donate to or volunteer at the S6 Foodbank, go to: https://sheffields6.foodbank.org.uk/