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Using a foodbank: Jo's Story

The pandemic has been tough on everyone. But if you’re struggling to make ends meet, getting through it is even harder. Choosing between food and phone credit made Jo feel isolated and depressed, here she shares how asking for help with money made all the difference.

I worked in the restaurant industry before the pandemic. My friends had set up a restaurant and I was helping them with that, doing front of house and whatever they needed really. But then lockdown happened, and it wasn’t kind to the industry. I ended up with no work, and that put me in a really tough place.

It was a really bad time to be unemployed. The jobs I am used to doing just weren’t there any more, the events and catering industries were pretty much closed down and I ended up with my only income being Universal Credit. Things were just getting harder and harder. I already had some housing and gas arrears, so when my income stopped it made it really tough. It was virtually impossible - I had £200 a month for everything: food, electric, gas, all my bills. I couldn’t make the money stretch.

All the information out there was about staying connected in lockdown, calling your mates, having video calls, but I couldn’t afford credit on my phone. I was literally alone, waiting for people to call, and I just sort of became more and more depressed.

It’s like a spiral. I couldn’t speak to anybody, and then I stopped wanting to speak to anybody. I just felt like I didn't have anything important to say, or anything new to talk about. It felt like Groundhog Day. Even the trains behind my house, they stopped going past so regularly, it was so quiet and lonely. I stopped wanting to get out of bed. I didn’t see the point. And once that starts, it’s really hard to break out of it. You just sort of lie there with the same thoughts going around and around in your head. I had no physical energy and felt like all I could do was sit and look at the television. It was a vicious cycle, I think that was hardest to deal with.

Things changed when someone put a leaflet through the door about local support. But it wasn’t like a magic wand overnight. I was quite scared and worried about asking for help with money, so I kept putting it off. I suppose because I felt like a bit of a failure. I’ve never used a foodbank before and it felt like I was going backwards. I think getting that kind of support is very hard for people at first. It’s hard to ask for and then it’s hard to accept. You don’t want to admit to yourself that you are struggling with something as basic as food. But the thing was, once I accepted it, it was so good.

I don’t know what I imagined a food parcel would be like, but it was so much better than I expected. I got bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, things to do the laundry - like you take washing powder for granted when things are good, but it is so expensive when you’re on a tight weekly budget - and that’s without panic buying.

But it wasn’t just food in the parcel. At the bottom there was some information about local support that was available. One leaflet was about Beam, an organisation that helps people who are struggling to find employment. It took me a couple of days to work up the courage to get in contact, and even when I did I panicked and didn’t reply straight away. It took me a couple of weeks to build myself up. It all just got on top of me. Asking for that help is the hardest bit - writing things down, or even saying them out loud is difficult, but it is also the start of something, the start of you making that change you need in your life.

When you keep it all in your head, it just keeps going round and round. You don’t get anywhere, but when you speak to someone, you suddenly realise there are people out there who can help you. You just don’t realise it.

And once I started , the process was actually really quick. The person I spoke to helped me make sure I had enough money for food, they sorted me out a laptop so I could actually access things, start helping myself get out of the situation I was in. And it wasn’t much, but just being able to have a choice over what to eat, being able to relax about my bills for a little bit, knowing they were being dealt with, it was such a relief. I never felt shamed or pressured to do anything, it was all at my own pace. It really helped, and I just wish more people knew about what support was out there, because if you don’t know you just keep on struggling through.

And at the moment, I know there are so many people out there who are going through similar things, probably much worse things than I was. People who have worked all their lives and suddenly found themselves without jobs and struggling with money. I just want them to know they don’t need to be ashamed or scared of getting the help they need.

If you’ve never been in this situation, it makes sense that you try to go at it alone, but there are people who are out there that can help you with the numbers and help you with filling out forms. It’s natural to get overwhelmed by this stuff. I’ve put my head in the sand myself, it feels easier to just ignore the letters, but that just means it gets out of hand.

When I was young my mum went to loan sharks, and we ended up losing our home. I didn’t want that to happen to me, I can only imagine how she felt and the pressure she was under. I just want people to know that, no matter how bad it feels, there are good people out there, people who listen to what you’re going through and take into account your mental health. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s always a way forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You have to let people in to try and move forward.

With the support of Beam, Jo was able to find stable work as a security guard and get back on track with her money and her mental health. If you’re struggling with money and it’s getting too much, you can talk to CALM, or find out more about financial stress and where to get support here.