Basics Bank


Our congregation at Portobello & Joppa Parish Church has been so supportive of the ‘Food Bank’ at Wilson Memorial food bankChurch, that I felt it would be good to let people know what actually happens every Tuesday between 10am and 1pm.   We use the term ‘Food Bank’ because most people now know what that means (a sad reflection of our times?) but in fact, the term used on the sign outside WM Church is ‘Basics Bank’.       The reason for this is that people who use the facility are given basic toiletries as well as food.  Much of the money which is donated goes towards buying stocks of soap, deodorant, shaving gel and razors.  The Basics Bank also keeps a small stock of nappies in different sizes and baby wipes, which are given to any parents who come with their babies and specifically request them.

Basics bank 6So how does this much-needed facility work? I wanted to find out what happens there so I went along in September to help out and enjoyed it so much, I now go every 2nd Tuesday if I can.  It’s an ecumenical venture, set up by Rev Ralph Dunn, the minister of WM Church along with Steve Wright from Edinburgh City Mission (ECM).  It has now been running for nearly 3 years: Ralph and the folks at WM Church had been taking food to ECM and began to wonder if they could host a Basics Bank.  They collected food for a few months, cleared out a cupboard to make a pantry and formed a team to run it weekly. The WM volunteers have since been joined by people from St Ninian’s Roman Catholic Church, Portobello Baptist Church and St Christopher’s and Portobello and Joppa Parish Churches of Scotland.

Here’s how it operates each week:

Monday: One of the team leaders, Alison, usually goes shopping to keep the basic supplies stocked up. Ralph receives a phone call from The Cyrenians to let him know what type of foodstuffs they can deliver next day. The Basics Bank pays around £700 per year to this charity, which sounds like a lot, but in fact the amount of food they provide makes it very good value.  Some of the money donated by churches is used towards the bill for Cyrenians.  They pick up fresh food from supermarkets which is surplus or going out of date and deliver it to food banks.  Typical food would be bread, vegetables, dairy products and meat.

I recently set up a link with PEDAL (local fruit and vegetable growers) so that anyone who has surplus fruit or vegetables can let Ralph know on Monday then take the food to the Basics Bank on Tuesday, knowing that it will be gratefully received and used.

Tuesday: The Cyrenians usually deliver stocks of fresh food to the church around 8am, so some Basic bank 3volunteers are on hand to receive this and begin to sort it into bags.  Most of the other volunteers arrive by 10am as this is when clients begin to arrive.  Some volunteers come at 11am so that there are not too many people in the kitchen at the same time!

One or two volunteers usually unpack donated food and store it in the pantry (which is a very small cupboard but extremely well-organised into different types of food and toiletries).

Others might divide large containers of sugar, coffee, powdered milk or washing powder into bags or empty jam jars so that clients can be given enough for a few days and resources can be shared.  Coffee and sugar are two items which tend to run out quickly as they are more expensive and therefore not donated so often.

Other jobs are: making sure clients have hot drinks and biscuits if they wish, washing cups, chatting to clients, and making up food parcels according to the tick list handed in by each client.  Food parcels are then weighed and a note taken next to the client’s name of how many kilos of supplies they received that week.

Two of the team!
Two of the team!

This giving of time, attention and care is just as important as the giving of food etc.  People end up at the Basics Bank from all walks of life and for all kinds of reasons.  I always think: “There but for the grace of God go I…or my son..or my daughter”. Often people are facing multiple problems in their lives, so there will always be someone available to listen, to give advice or to pray with them if they wish.  When appropriate, they are put in touch with other agencies who can help, such as Christians Against Poverty (CAP) who have an excellent track record of helping people get out of debt.

Basics Bank 1The underlying theology of the Basics Bank comes from Genesis 2 where God realised that even in the Garden of Eden with all its provision, it was “not good” for man to be alone.  God provided human love and companionship as well as His own presence and this is vital to what happens at the Basics Bank.  First, the physical needs of the person are addressed, closely followed by their relational/emotional needs and usually – if it is appropriate – their spiritual needs. Volunteers will often offer to pray for or with people. Pointers to church groups or worship services suitable to the client are offered if he or she indicates that spiritual support would be helpful.  The floor-standing banner in the small café-style hall where Basics Bank takes place says it all: “When the food finishes, the love goes on”. Although clients usually receive food parcels for around 6 weeks, this can be extended and they are free to drop in any Tuesday morning for a hot drink and a chat.  There are always biscuits or cakes on the table for people to help themselves, along with any odd items which are not on the regular tick list.  Some clients have become friends and it’s heartwarming to see people getting their lives back on track.

Those who use the Basics Bank and those who help there are extremely grateful for the kindness and commitment shown by the churches who support it.  Portobello and Joppa Parish Church has always given generously so please continue to do so, knowing that every little you give makes a huge difference to the people for whom the Basics Bank is a lifeline.  Thank you.

Erica Wishart, February 2014