‘It’s all about dignity and humanity – simple as that’
IF you want something done in your community, do it yourself.
And, with a little help from his friends, of course, East End man John Lyons has done just that.
As general manager of Carntyne and Riddrie Credit Union, John works hard to break down barriers preventing people across the city gaining access food banks.
The former civil servant became angry at seeing neighbours and fellow members of his community left feeling ashamed as they asked for help with the most basic of human needs, so eight years ago, he decided to do something about it.
“We used to collect food and take it to a local food bank and I dropped by to see how the process worked.” John explained.” It was then I learned that people needed a red referral slip from their doctor or social services in order to receive food parcels.
“At one particular food bank I saw every age group come and go, and they were absolutely horrified and ashamed to be there.
“A young mother came in with three kids and the guy assisting her asked: ‘Are the kids all from the same father?’ I was furious, as I thought what difference does it make?”
It was the catalyst for John forming Glasgow’s first nonreferral food bank.
By calling into the Credit Union community centre, people in need can bypass the stress of waiting for social services appointments and filling out forms.
John listens to people’s realistic dietary requirements, and food bags are made on a bespoke basis with very little going to waste. Besides food assistance, nappies, formula and baby clothes can be accessed from the baby bank on the same non-referral basis.
Growing a food donation network in the East End has been key to the development of John’s non-referral system. One of the many partners in that network is Susan Wilson, community champion at Tesco Parkhead.
Susan organises food drives within the store that supply donations of food, toiletries and furniture to families and homeless people in need.
She says: “We have a lot of surplus food so we are able to work with John continuously in giving donations. We pass it on knowing that the food is being shared among people who need it most.”
One resident who has benefitted from that model of community sharing is a local mother-of-nine who ran into difficulty when her washing machine broke down in the past few weeks.
“My machine stopped and I was told it would cost £160 to get it fixed, which I didn’t have.
“It was murder as I was washing all the family’s clothes in the bath. I mentioned it to John and within a week he’d found us a new machine which was only a few months old,” she said.
When the grateful mum
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on Facebook or Twitter popped into John to give a donation to the food bank as a thank you, she walked out with a bag of Easter eggs for her children to enjoy.
Like many others, her family share bad experiences of accessing referral food banks, as she adds: “At every other one I know of, I needed a red slip and it has to be taken to the food bank within three days. It’s embarrassing to walk in and get sent away only because I was a day late.
“It’s also hard to hunt around and find out who is going to refer you. A lot of people I know don’t find out about how to get a referral which simply means they go starving.”
John says: “It’s all about dignity and humanity, it’s simple as that.”
John Lyons at Carntyne and Riddrie Community Centre (Photo by Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times).
John (middle) and Susan Wilson (second right) at Tesco Parkhead during a food drive