Not knowing quite what to expect, I could have guessed that the entrance room of The Foodbank at St Andrews in the heart of Valletta would be a modest waiting room decorated with a single calming religious poster. I took in the black chairs on old tiles that lined the reception, before I was cheerfully greeted and led into the Methodist Church’s office to chat with Reverand Kim Hurst.
After a very successful and novel pilot project, the “Reverse Advent Calendar” that took off around the Christmas season, I was eager to find out how the Foodbank was holding up. It was only last October when it was at risk of closing down due to lack of donations.
“The number of clients always goes up in January, when people are struggling after the festive season, but I still don’t see it easing down at the moment.” Reverand Hurst tells Lovin Malta. Last week they handed out 75 boxes of food supplies and essentials.
“We haven’t passed the hundred-a-week mark yet but we’ve been close.”
They’re still using up some surplus supplies donated at Christmas to stock the metal shelves in the pantry room.
“By the end of the evening, come 8 o’clock all this will be gone” I’m told. The stock room is the size of a small village grocer’s, the shelves packed deep with everything from biscuits to baked beans, and it’s fascinating to hear that it can be cleared over the course of an evening in one full swoop by families in-need taking home donated goods.
The people falling back on the Foodbank are in emergency crisis- either unemployed, out of work because of illness, have just lost their jobs or have been on benefits for a long time and are finding it increasingly difficult to cope. They can be outpatients recently discharged from Mater Dei or Mount Carmel Hospital, or recently employed and waiting for their first wage payment to come through. They’re referred to St Andrews from agencies that work with people on the brink of crisis.
Once they’ve made contact with the Foodbank, clients in-need can visit once a week, up to six times. After that, a social worker is contacted and the individual’s circumstances are further addressed. Some recipients have kids, “Some have two children, some have five…”. It may seem difficult to see how a €35 care package can subsidise a large family for a whole week or more, but the clients make it work. The Foodbank is an absolute blessing for those passing through hard times.
With dried items like couscous and essentials like cooking oil and toilet paper on the all important “permanent list” which can be viewed on their website and Facebook page, Reverand Kim goes on to reel off other important items… “Passata, tinned fruit, meat…” Meat? “Tinned meat,” she confirms. Donators should stay clear of pasta, rice and tinned tomatoes for a little while if they’re looking to donate anytime soon, she advises. They had an influx over Christmas. “But we’re always short of breakfast cereals.”
So why are your numbers increasing? I ask the Reverand. It has a lot to do with rising rent prices.
“I think everybody knows it’s a big problem. The living wage is not keeping up with the cost of renting accommodation, so tenants are struggling to keep up. People are having to leave their homes because of rising rent prices, getting kicked out by their landlords for a better offer- causing homelessness in some cases – or a desperate scramble to make ends meet with their newly increased rent price. Sometimes it’s families who are the ones who have to uproot, ending up living with older family members back in their childhood homes. I’ve heard of four generations living under the same roof.”
Does it show any sign of slowing down? Or is the knowledge of having a charitable Foodbank destined to become a life saver for good. Will more and more families be referred to the warm welcome of the Reverand’s one stop shop?
People in comfortable circumstances might be surprised to know that an organisation like this even exists on our shores, not realising how tight the pinch is on non-homeowners in today’s Malta. Perhaps many more who are struggling will be eager to find out how The Foodbank at St Andrews can help them through hard times. Only time will tell if the promise of “seasonal work” will eradicate the need for individuals to make the trip to Old Bakery Street, but for now, €2000-€3000 in donated supermarket food is being given out every week.
To keep the shelves stocked, there needs to be a long-term plan for the kindhearted non-governmental project, with soaring letting agreements showing no sign of slowing down.
“Continuity and consistency is what we need. If people didn’t help us, we couldn’t help other people” says the Reverand, thankfully. “Rather than having a few people giving a lot, I’d rather a lot of people give us a little.”
Monetary donations can be made directly, or foodstuffs can be brought in. Of course, when funds are transferred directly, Reverend Hurst and her team can order in exactly what’s needed. She currently has 16 volunteers that help out over the four-a week drop-ins. It seems like Valletta’s discreet Foodbank is here to stay.
If you’d like to make a contribution to this essential initiative, get involved and make a huge difference to a person’s life by donating to The Foodbank at St Andrews.
Apart from the option of buying a few extra supplies at the supermarket and dropping them off in Valletta, you can make online donations easily and securely via their website here. There is also a monthly donation option if you’d like to keep the donations regular.