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Taking place at Bow Church each Monday morning, this is an independent food bank which means vouchers from the Department of Work Pensions are not required, anyone who is in need of food can come and ask for help. Assistance to those in crisis is offered in the form of ten items of grocery every other week for up to fifteen visits.

Every Sunday after evening service and mass are concluded in Bow, a chain of volunteers wheel trolleys of food across the road from the Catholic church of Our Lady St Catherine of Siena to the nearby Anglican church of St Mary Holy Trinity which sits upon an island in the middle of the road. The unusual situation of this ancient building means that direct deliveries are not possible and thus a unique Sunday ritual has arisen, transporting the food bank supplies from the church where they are delivered to the church where they are distributed.

Once the food arrives, the volunteers organise it upon tables in the vestry while the choir practises in the nave and very soon preparations are complete for the food bank which takes place each Monday morning.

Alick Phillips, Volunteer – “Originally, I was a client here because I was in need of food when I was going through a tough time. This is different from other food banks because they don’t just give you food and rush you out, you can sit and have a sandwich and a coffee and get legal advice about benefits and housing. When I came here I found the volunteers took an interest in my situation. I was having money problems because my benefit was suspended and I had some personal problems too. I found I could talk to the volunteers and they helped me in my recovery and getting back on my feet. So I felt I wanted to put something back, that’s why I volunteered to help after my visits were up. I am forty-eight years old – I have two grandchildren – and I was born in Forest Gate and have lived in the East End around Stratford and Canning Town all my life. I have been volunteering weekly for over a year and I really enjoy it, I feel privileged to be around these people. It changed my life, coming here, and now I have got back to where I wanted to be.”

Chrystabel Austin, Volunteer “I got involved in the Food Bank because I had a very bad year when my mother died and then my husband died. I came to Bow Church at the end of that year and started volunteering at the Food Bank. I am glad it’s on a Monday because it is a very good way to start the week. I think food banks are important and sadly are here to stay. They are mopping up what the government is causing to happen. With Universal Credit being rolled out we are seeing more and more people every week. We try to make them feel human again. I am usually at the door, greeting people. For many people it is hard to come here. We have people in tears because they are ashamed. A lot of people now are living only a couple of months from financial meltdown. With the amount of debt people carry, you only need to lose your job or be ill and it spirals out of control, and people can lose their partner, their family and their home. In particular, single men find themselves at the bottom of the priority list. There was an educated young man who came in and, when I asked him if he had been here before, he said, ‘No, I almost came a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t have the courage to walk in. – I’m so ashamed that I am in this situation.’ He had got into a muddle at work, got into debt and lost his flat. He was in this morning and he’s climbing back out of it already. I know he will be alright because he speaks four languages. Now he wants to come back as a volunteer, which will be very useful for us with the languages.”

Peter Marshall, Volunteer – “I am a member of this church so when the Food Bank started eighteen months ago, my wife Elizabeth suggested I come down here and help on a Monday. Each client is given ten tickets and they can pick ten items from the store which they put in a basket and then I check them off the list so we have record for reordering. At the end of the morning, I add it all up and do a weekly stock check. I get a sense of being useful by doing this. I have nothing else to do and I don’t want to sit with my feet up, I prefer to be involved in something worthwhile. Where else would these people go?”

Shamin Khan, Volunteer – “I work the night shift at McDonald’s in Bow until seven or eight and then come here to do my volunteer work each Monday. When I came from Milan in 2017, I was in big trouble, I had no work and I was struggling. I came to Bow Church for help and they inspired me. They said, ‘If you have nothing to do, you can come here and help us.’ So I have come every week since to volunteer. They helped me, so I want to help other people. We are just human beings and we have to share with each other. Poor people deserve to live on our beautiful earth too. They need some help and some food. It is only a short journey of a few months and then things may get better for them – like they did for me – and they can come and help others. This is my philosophy.”

Amanda Claremont, Former Church Warden – “I was very skeptical about the Food Bank when it started because once you open a food bank you cannot close it – the need is always there. Food banks are manifestation of many things about late Capitalism that shouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, I found myself here when they were asking for volunteers to help. I have always served tea, coffee and cakes, so I said, ‘I will do hospitality,’ and I have done that every week since the start of the Food Bank. I walked the Camino de Santiago and that was what I learnt on my pilgrimage, ‘You should always offer hospitality to strangers.’ A food bank is one tiny way of putting right what is a cruel injustice, it is the least we can do.”