I lived in the US for a couple of years and while I was there I worked for Generations United. GU develops intergenerational policy and programmes (sorry, programs…) and campaigns to make things better for intergenerational (IG) families (aka grandfamilies). IG families are usually grandparents raising their grandchildren, but GU also talks about other family set ups, such as children being raised by an aunt etc. I was thinking about them today, partly because I met Julia Griggs, who has done research in this area, and partly because of food banks.
Food banks in the US are a very big deal. Where so many people who are in need do not qualify for federal (or in many cases state) assistance, food banks stand between the wolf and the door. They distribute store-cupboard goods as well as fresh food. (The fresh food often comes from agricultural surplus, and I could go on for pages about the wisdom of a system which subsidises agriculture to the extent that food needs to be given away or destroyed.) One family I met through GU really stuck in my mind. He was a forester. She was a nurse. They lived in a rural area and were doing OK, and earning enough to raise their four children. Then there was a family crisis. One of the couple’s siblings had a breakdown. Five kids, two with special educational needs, were about to be taken into care, so the couple stepped up. They are now responsible for nine kids. Amazingly, they get a foster care payment for the group they have taken on (I say”amazingly” because so many of these families get no help at all to care for the extra kids). However, the two kids with special needs go to boarding school and the foster care payment cannot be made while the kids are away in school. Unfortunately, it takes some time to be reinstated each vacation, so every time the kids come home from school, the family have extra costs but no extra money. The food bank is the only way they can get help.
This is extreme, of course, but food banks in the UK are starting to do the same kinds of work. Hannah Lambie gave a presentation at the SPA Conference today about the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity which started a food bank in Salisbury and now offers food bank franchises to other churches around the country. She, very wisely in my opinions, recommends that we all think hard about whether this is road we want to go down before food banks become so entrenched that we cannot do without them.