On a very rainy day, the open doors to the Balfour Mutual Aid Food Bank provide an inviting hideout. Kim, the Mutual Aid area rep and coordinator of the food bank, tells me about the Mutual Aid movement in Brighton. Set up just before lockdown, the principle of mutual aid is reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit with people taking responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions. Loose network of people not charity. Neighbours supporting neighbours. Initially run from Balfour Primary school by teacher Natasha, Kim and a team of volunteers took over the food bank and now operate it from St. John’s Church Hall.
Every Monday, they pack food parcels for deliveries, the food bank itself is open Tuesday-Thursday and is one of the few in Brighton where you do not need a referral and there are no questions asked. With a team of 40 volunteers, 10 of them drivers, Balfour Mutual Aid Food Bank deliver all over Brighton. Telephone befrienders call people to have a chat, give advice providing a list of useful resources from the council, and set up deliveries on a one-off, ad-hoc, or regular basis.
At the beginning, Kim went and collected food parcels from people who received them but did not need them so she redistributed them. They relied heavily on donations for the food bank before getting food from FareShare. Now, most of the food comes from FareShare and Kim says:
“It’s the most interesting food, you never know what you get, and without them we would have to close.”
In addition, they have partnered with local businesses and organisations including a local pet store, Pelican Parcels and the Red Box Project to provide pet food, nappies and sanitary products to people who need them. While the food bank started out as a response to the covid-19 pandemic Kim says:
“This is no longer about people self-isolating but about food poverty.”
Almost 110 people come to the food bank every week or receive a food parcel. They often experience temporary emergencies most commonly being in between jobs, waiting for their deposit back or awaiting universal credit. Kim says people who have had to use the food bank themselves are often the ones that give the most generous donations and also come to volunteer. This way the mutual aid feels less patronising as it enables everyone to give what they can and take what they need.
Two clients, Shannon and Imerlika, came with their children. It’s their third time coming here and they get all types of food: rice, pasta, cereal, fruit and also nappies. They stay at a refuge so this food makes a big difference to them.
“Without the food bank we would hardly eat at all.”
The Balfour Mutual Aid Food Bank is an excellent example of how people come together to give what they can and take what they need, mutual aid in action. Luckily, they are able to stay in St. John’s church hall until Christmas as a greater need for food banks is expected.