The other week I had a moral dilemma. Perhaps that sounds more dramatic than it actually was. If I stuck to my principles, it would either have been even more of a dilemma or, in fact, I’d have acted differently. Here’s what happened…
I was shopping in my local Tesco. If you’re a regular reader you may know that supermarket shopping makes me feel guilty because of a range of ethical and environmental factors (you can read more here). If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll also know that I’ve gave up supermarkets for Lent last year, and for 28 days the year before. I plan to go supermarket-free again for Lent this year. I don’t live my life sans supermarkets for the rest of the year but I do try to limit my expenditure in them, especially in favour of shopping locally. Anyhow, on this particular day last week I was doing my shopping in Tesco, and Tesco was collecting for the local foodbank.
When I see a collection point for a foodbank, I want to help. Of course I do. The thought of there being people in this country – people in my community – having too little to feed themselves, is both shocking and humbling. Thank goodness for foodbanks – for their ability to provide, and for the way that they mobilise those who would like to help, into action.
My initial feeling on seeing the collection point was positive. Here was a super-convenient way to donate – my alternative is to take items on foot to the local library, where there is a collection box. This however is rarely emptied, presumably due to lack of donations. I never feel that aid is being rushed to those who need it.
Swiftly on the back of feeling pleased to have the opportunity to donate, guilt washed over me and I felt frustrated that by donating to the food bank, Tesco was going to benefit even more, as a result of my additional purchases.
Still, faced with a lack of convenient options for giving to the food bank, at least Tesco is doing something. It even had an initiative to add an extra 30% on to customer donations. I have no idea if this benefits Tesco in any way in terms of tax relief for example, but it seems to be a generous and significant gesture.
I am that strange person who takes pictures of foodbank signs!
I’ve been here before with the supermarket vs food bank dilemma. Eighteen months ago, my local foodbank was looking for volunteers to hand out leaflets in Tesco, encouraging customers to donate items. I’d not long finished my 28 days of ‘supermarket-free-ness’ and it was a struggle to decide what to do.
After huge internal debate I volunteered – and last week, I donated a bag full of food. Nothing in me wants to increase Tesco’s sales – yet I just can’t stand by and watch people struggle, when there is an almost effortless solution being presented to me in a shop which I (let’s face facts) use regularly. For me to have walked away would have been hugely hypocritical, and would have caused me more guilt than shopping at the supermarket does anyway.
So what can I do to ensure I am never again faced with such a dilemma? My answer is, of course, twofold.
Firstly I have to work harder towards not shopping in the bloody supermarket! To resolve myself of all of the guilt that goes hand in hand with that particular activity, I need to keep out of there. You can read more in this post about my difficulties in going completely supermarket-free. The bottom line is though that I need to make obliterating my reliance on the supermarket a real goal. I am definitely due another look at ways I can trim my spending there. However, as long as I am shopping in supermarkets, I will be donating whenever the food bank is collecting.
Secondly, I need to find other convenient ways of donating to the foodbank. As I said, I donate when I go to the library. I do this on most visits, but as said visits usually coincide with returning books that are horribly overdue, my donations aren’t particularly regular.
As a family, we have sent a cheque to the foodbank before, but I am aware that this didn’t allow us to add Gift Aid. As I write this, I realise that at 25%, Gift Aid falls only slightly short of Tesco’s 30% contribution to all donations? I’m also wondering if Gift Aided cheques would allow foodbanks to purchase a greater amount of food themselves from wholesalers? Do foodbanks have enough volunteers to go out and buy food, or is it a valuable time-saver to have food already bought for them?
I have sent an email to the Trussell Trust (the organisation with the most responsibility for foodbanks in the UK) asking those questions and am waiting on a reply. I have also tweeted my local foodbank.
There are also options for donating time to helping with the foodbank and, of course, helping with preventative measures, such as lobbying the local MP for policy changes that will reduce reliance on foodbanks. According to the Trussell Trust here 30.93% of people referred to the foodbank in 2013-14, were in need of help due to their benefit payments being delayed. Other types of volunteering, such as working in a Citizens Advice Bureau, would also help potential foodbank clients to claim money that they are entitled to, thus possibly reducing the numbers of people that need to rely on food aid.
In the meantime, if you wish to make a food donation, here’s a screenshot of a typical foodbank shopping list
(Eastbourne shopping list)
I know that some foodbanks are especially keen to receive Christmas-related food gifts just now, such as biscuits, chocolate and Christmas puddings 🙂
Would stumbling across a collection point in the supermarket cause you a dilemma? If you have any thoughts on foodbanks, supermarkets or the interaction between the two, I’d love to hear them.