The food bank must come out of hiding. Shame is not necessary | opinion

To get a better picture of the food bank, Marjan Nijenbanning, councilor in Coevorden, took a look. She is excited about the positive atmosphere: ‘The food bank must come out of hiding.’

One Thursday morning around eleven o’clock I made an appointment with the coordinator of the food bank in Coevorden. At that point, issuance will begin. When I enter the building there are several people waiting, in the hallway a row of empty shopping bags.

I overhear a conversation about turning the heat back on because it’s getting colder. I hear people say they think it’s exciting but also don’t want to stand out in the cold, especially with kids.

There is a friendly atmosphere. An employee in a red body warmer with the food bank’s logo approaches with a note in hand. Come on, she says, let’s sit there for a while, it’s a little quieter. She brings someone with her, and from her words I can understand that they are new people.

Are you new?

Meanwhile, the hallway is getting busier and busier. Then the employee comes walking again, she looks at me and asks if I’m new. Yes, I say, I have an appointment with the coordinator. Aha, she says, you are Mrs Nijenbanning and she shakes my hand. I can follow her inside.

Then I enter the room, where all the food is put out in cupboards and on tables. Here are even more people with red body warmers, they are the volunteers. Everyone seems to be aware of my arrival, the chairman of the board of the food bank is also present. It feels like a warm welcome and yet also somewhat uncomfortable; I will not keep them from their important work.

I get an explanation about the distribution of the food. There is everything, really everything. Also products that I wonder what people will use and what meal they can make from it. The food bank depends on donations and gifts and is happy with everything it receives. But here too, questions are sometimes raised about some products.

Not a constant supply

What I especially find is that people here want a nutritious, tasty meal on the table for the families who need it so badly. The basic products bread, fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products are donated sparingly. There is no constant supply. Many products come from local supermarkets, and since the supermarkets themselves try to prevent food waste, it is much more difficult for the food bank to get these basic products.

We sit down at a table. Look, says the employee, I’d like to give you an insight into a calculation. She made a comparison on an A4 sheet of a family receiving social benefits and a family receiving wages. Incomes vary around 300 euros. She then shows me that housing benefit, health benefit and child benefit are added to the income, and that overall there is roughly the same amount to be spent by both families.

Then I gain insight into exemptions and fringe benefits given by governments and institutions to family 1 and not to family 2. At the bottom, family 2 has almost 400 euros less available.

I can’t look away

I can’t look away from this. These are families that are stuck financially, despite working very hard. They miss out on all kinds of benefits and are not eligible for schemes that people up to 120 percent of the social assistance standard are eligible for. This makes the difference very large, up to 500 euros.

The umbrella organization Food Banks Netherlands recently announced that it would take a more generous view of the people who report to them. According to the website, whether you are entitled to help from the food bank depends on how much you have left for food and drink each month. In short, it works like this: they add all the income together. And subtract fixed costs from that. Think about rent, water and electricity. This leaves an amount for groceries and clothing. Is this amount lower than the ‘standard amount’? Then they will be happy to help you. These standard amounts are also available on the website.

The food bank must come out of hiding. There is still a lot of ignorance and shame around the food bank, but it is not necessary at all. There is an atmosphere based on trust in people and a heart for people. The Food Bank would like to help where it is needed. They also want to support the elderly with a small state pension or a small pension and people who have a job but simply cannot manage or a small self-employed entrepreneur.

Ask for help

It is unthinkable that the livelihood of so many people in a country like the Netherlands is under such pressure that a food bank is necessary for large groups of people. It is also unthinkable that large groups of people are not entitled to energy allowance or (other help from the public) and therefore need help from the food bank.

I can only say: dear people, if you no longer know where to get your food, ask for help. The food bankers are friendly and do not judge you or your family.

Marjan Nijenbanning is a PvdA councilor in Coevorden

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