Poverty can affect anyone

1st November 2018

There is an increasing rise in the need for foodbanks across Surrey, with more local people finding difficulty in feeding themselves and their families. Jonathan Lees, Senior Leader at Generation Church, explains how Epsom and Ewells foodbank is going a long way in supporting those struggling across the county.

Six years ago, we gathered in a room wondering if anyone would come to a meeting about exploring the need for a foodbank in Epsom and Ewell. Over 70 people turned up and in October 2012 we launched our first two centres. We are still here despite some people saying then that it wasn’t needed, and that nobody goes to bed hungry in Epsom, Surrey. We knew otherwise through our research and experience on the ground.

With some friends I initiated the meeting and with local people and local agencies we launched the foodbank, but what does it really do and why are we still here?

It’s been a rollercoaster. We’ve fed over 15,200 people, collected over 200 tonnes of food and are working with over 100 agencies in Surrey.

None of us would have believed that we would still be going in 2018 and with a growing demand. It’s so sad for a country that claims to be at the forefront of so much, a modern democratic society! Food poverty is all around us, but often in our busy lives we do not see the signs and desperation of so many. It is heart-breaking and emotionally draining to hear the stories – a stark reminder of how some people live.

One lady we saw, not somebody obviously in food poverty, but whose life had reached a point where she just couldn’t survive, had sat in her car for over an hour plucking up the courage to come in with her food voucher.

We run five centres each week. At one, I discovered a volunteer leaving via the back door. A client she used to work with had arrived and she wanted to avoid embarrassing her. It makes you realise anyone can find themselves in food poverty. Our clients come in for many different reasons. The majority are either on a low income or are experiencing benefit payment delays. Every week we realise that there is very little flexibility with the benefits system.

To meet the need for our services we have raised funds to offer counselling and to employ a support worker, and we are very grateful to the Community Foundation for Surrey who have made a number of grants to these services. Both of these roles work with our clients to help them escape the foodbank need and to rebuild their lives. We have set up a signposting service and we offer reused furniture, which has a huge demand!

Due to continuing growth we have to question if it is morally and ethically right to run a foodbank in Surrey? Can we create an exit plan? What else can we do to reduce the reliance on foodbanks?

Firstly, we have begun to explore a concept called ‘A Poverty Truth Commission’, where we support people to tell their stories to those in power who make the decisions and set policies. This is not to solve their problems but to put a real person behind the statistic and hopefully allow people to explore different ways of making things happen, so that in the future, people may not get caught in the same traps.

Secondly, we have the ability to support so many people in such a ‘rich’ community; to give a person a bed when they have been sleeping on the floor; to be able to demonstrate to people how easy it is to get caught in a poverty trap, and to support people in getting out of it. I do believe we are making a difference to local people. We gave one gentleman food and the pure delight on his face made me feel appalled at my materialistic ‘wants’.

The challenge is, can we shut the foodbank and address the root causes of poverty in our community, or will we still be here in another six years time?

We are proud to detect local needs and target them with the generous giving of local donors, wanting to give something back to their communities today and in the long-term. The need for foodbanks demonstrates the challenges that exist within Surrey and also demonstrates the role of philanthropy and local giving in meeting those needs.

We are delighted to have funded Generation Church for 9 projects supporting the foodbank.

To learn more about other local groups that we support, please see our Who We Support page.  

If you would like to learn more about giving to local causes, please see our Giving page.