FROM OUR HANDS TO YOURS | Sarah Mavity takes us on one of her food bank shifts, showing how community and food connects us.
by Sarah Mavity
I slice the end bit in two, and slip each half onto its own plate. The last piece is the crust and it’s the prized morsel in this house. Laden with butter, we devour them in a few short seconds. I wipe the scattered crumbs from the edge of your beard.
The sky is a mellow grey. There’s a softness now the rain has stopped and the world is slowly lifting into view. We cross at the lights and cut through the park behind the estate. Beyond the stark metal bars of the fencing, the empty swings in the playground sway gently as though pushed by an invisible person. Two squirrels are the only playmates, chasing each other up and over the red-and-yellow paint chipped climbing frame. We turn down Ceres Avenue with the row of ramshackle two-up-two-downs. Every house has a tiny strip of land from the pavement to the front door, each with its story to tell. Number 46 with the Astroturf and white picket fence, Number 58 with tulips in pots shaped like wellington boots, Number 62 with the ‘beware the guinea pig’ sign, nNumber 70 with the overflowing bins. In the window of the house at the end of the street, there’s a crayon-drawn rainbow above the words ‘thank you’.
The stadium looms into view, the domed metallic structure imposed against the sky, grey on grey. A small patch of light pierces through the clouds. The determined sun shines on, just beyond the other side. Clay’s face lights up. There’s such warmth in his eyes, his wry smile spreads as we reach the front gate.
‘Fancy seeing you two here. Another day in Paradise, eh?’
We stack our bags on the table he stands behind, and take a step backwards. Clay has a cursory look inside them and hands us both a familiar pink paper wrist band. I push the button on the plastic dispenser, rubbing the slick disinfectant across my hands, palm to palm, fingers and thumbs. When I look back up, Clay is holding the door ajar.
‘Thanks. Have a great day and stay safe.’
“Food connects every one of us, far and wide around the world and throughout history.”
We head down the long concrete corridor and slip our masks on, cocooned in our own breath. There’s a hum of activity on the floor, each person moving in time with each other like a dance to a shared rhythm. Stacking shifting sorting, packing lifting loading. We wave to our masked friends, only our eyes now share our smiles. In this new reality, there’s an air of anonymity. Here there are no administrators, no theatre managers, no retired teachers, no electricians, no designers, no computer programmers. We share a common purpose, each of us holding a piece of the jigsaw without which the other pieces can’t fit.
I pick up a bag and join the start of packing line. The boxes of vegetables sit side by side across the long line of trestle tables, a tapestry of shapes and colours. I side step along picking up as I go, like a human conveyer belt. Four potatoes, two onions, three carrots and a beetroot. I hold it in my hand, feeling its earthy purple skin against mine, and I’m struck by our relationship. It’s nourished by the soil, the sun and rain. We harvest and eat it, and the nourishment passes on to us. From soil to barrow, crate to cupboard, plate to waste, and back to the earth once more. Food connects every one of us, far and wide around the world and throughout history. From hunting and gathering, to celebratory feasts, the last meal of the condemned and the all-you-can eats. It’s our lifeline and our power, but it comes at a cost.
I drop the half-packed bag onto the table beside me. Jean picks it up and continues the run. Courgette, spinach, garlic, lettuce, tomatoes. The finished bags are lined up in rows, ten by ten by ten by ten. Vans loaded, the drivers are ready to make their drops to four hundred and fifty homes. Four hundred and fifty mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmas, grandpas, in need or alone. There’s desperation in this isolation but we feel closer now than maybe we’ve ever been.
Sarah Mavity | @LeGardinier | @sarahcmavity
Sarah Mavity is a freelance film and commercials producer based in Tottenham, London. She writes as an outlet from busy city life, and has a romantic notion of living by the sea with her cat Meeks at her side.