Oldham Foodbank “In Touch” Project
When people come into the foodbank we are often asked by them if they can use our phone, this is because either they have no credit on their PAYG mobile or they don’t have a phone.
Only this week we had a typical request when a young man, Tony, was laid off 2 weeks ago, the morning he came into Oldham Foodbank had been offered a job via a text message which asked him to call the agency concerned, Tony had no credit and was stuck in a trap, for the sake of a few pence he was not going to be able to contact anyone.
Some time ago we decided at Oldham Foodbank we needed an extra phone line because our landline was being used for foodbank business and we couldn’t meet the need of those struggling to contact employers and other agencies such as DWP which in my experience can be on hold for up to half an hour.
After making some enquiries the cost of line installation and monthly costs were going to be too much of a drain on our resources. We went instead for a VOIP phone through a company called Vonage, this is Voice Over Internet Protocol (we had never heard of it either), which uses our broadband connection, all clever stuff. It is very cost effective and our package includes calls so no surprise bills.
Back to Tony, we were able to let him use the VOIP phone and he was over the moon to learn he was starting work the next day, but scared as he would not be paid until the end of the month so he was still in crisis. That is where our In Touch project comes in to its own. With the help of Greater Manchester Together, which is a joint venture between The Diocese of Manchester and The Church Urban Fund, we were awarded a small grant from The Council for Social Aid. This enabled us to put some credit onto Tony’s phone enabling him to stay In Touch with his employers and thus help him to move out of the poverty trap.
The Grant has also enabled us to purchase a few inexpensive basic phones to “loan” to people who don’t have any means of contact. Though we do say they are on loan and ask people to bring them back if they no longer need them, we won’t be holding our breath. So far we have distributed three of these phones, we have made the criteria very strict and we do ask people’s permission to make checks with referring agencies. We also point out the phones have no resale value and cash converters are not interested in them. We give them with a SIM with credit on. We have followed up with two of the people so far, they still have them and still have credit! We have also received a cash donation from someone we helped with credit and is now back on his feet. Just another way of being more than food.