“Money is not a barrier to me having a meal here as I volunteer in the gardens, this takes away the shame of taking a free meal.” – Focus group participant
This principle is about feeling recognised and valued as a whole person with knowledge, skills and experiences to share. Community food providers should consider the multiple and varied ways that people with diverse experiences and backgrounds can share their time, resources or skills.
This principle is about recognising the multiple ways that people can take part and contribute to a project rather than simply receiving emergency food aid. As the Dignity report notes, part of the stigma for people who need to access emergency food provision is being seen as a ‘scrounger’ or a ‘skiver’. Many people feel uncomfortable for receiving something without being able to give something back. Having meaningful ways to contribute – whether financially or through sharing skills or time – can make people feel a greater sense of value, self-worth and belonging.
When people are experiencing financial hardship, the focus is often placed on their problems and deficits, instead of what they have to share. Initiatives designed to recognise and value the contribution that each individual can make require that staff and volunteers have the time to get to know participants and see them as more than ‘recipients of a service’.
In projects that are largely communityled, the boundaries between staff, board, volunteers and participants are more fluid, and people often play several roles at the same time. Offering time by volunteering at a project can be one form of giving back. Volunteering can create a sense of community, learning opportunities and the opportunity to share food. This principle also relates to financial contribution, making sure that when people can pay something for their food, they have the dignity of doing so.
At the same time, there should not be an expectation that everyone taking part in a service will be in a position to contribute each time they attend. Services should be designed with the acknowledgement that at certain times, people may have more or less time and resources to share, depending on their circumstances
“I can get a lot of things for free in Glasgow, but do I get a wee bit of dignity back by being able to contribute towards the end? Better to give 20p than nothing.” – Participant, Dignity Project peer support programme
Some community food initiatives are focused on providing people with food in a crisis and have very distinct boundaries between staff and/or volunteers on the one hand and ‘clients’ or ‘service users’ on the other hand. Those coming to the project are viewed and spoken about as ‘people in crisis’, with little to offer in return. Community food providers can undermine people’s dignity if, for example:
the project is run solely by staff and/or volunteers who are recruited externally;
there are no opportunities for community members coming to or benefiting from the project to volunteer or contribute;
financial contributions are required, or donations cannot be made anonymously.
Creating a culture of participation and contribution Community food initiatives can be great spaces for people to try new things and share knowledge and skills, including cooking and growing skills. Volunteering can support people to find more fulfilling employment too. Having dedicated staff or volunteer roles focussing on volunteer coordination and support makes a big difference to the level of community involvement. It takes time to get to know everyone taking part in the project and to develop meaningful and supported opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to take part. Encouragement and support is often required for someone to feel confident and able to volunteer, and for them to get most out of the volunteering opportunities.
Financial contribution Projects may offer an option for participants to contribute through a donation box by the exit from a community café, a sliding scale of payment at a food co-operative or a way to pay at a time and in a way the person chooses (e.g. at the end of the month or when they are feeling more financially secure). Establishing ways for participants to contribute financially should be done sensitively and in consultation with those taking part. For example, even seeing the donation box or sign on a table asking you to ‘pay as you feel’ can make people who do not have money at that moment feel that they do not deserve to be there.