When we get a referral to deliver a food parcel it tends to be a bare bones kind of affair.
A name. An address. A phone number. How many people live in the house. Mouths to feed. Bellies to fill.
Sometimes there are a couple of sentences sketching out a back story. Tales of woe written in haste. Mere glimpses of some hard realities.
So I write out my lists and shuffle the names and addresses into a geographic order. As the crow flies, right?
Villages and towns. Sometimes the middle of Scottish nowhere. Schemes and leafy crescents. High rise and low rise. Ivy clad and pebble dash. Manicured and litter strewn. Cars in the driveways and old rotting sofas in the yard.
Google maps and not much by the way of traffic.
An it is amazing how many houses don't have numbers on the door.
Sometimes I find myself getting wound up and I have to give myself a wake up call. Grow up Frankland and count your lucky stars. An Amazon driver is expected to manage 10 deliveries an hour.
Which basically puts me squarely on easy street.
When I load up a hefty bag's worth of food for a family of six or seven or eight, I cross my fingers and hope to hell they're not up on the third floor.
But they usually are.
And nothing is designed to make a chain smoking sixty year old food bank guy feel old than a family of eight on the third floor.
So, anyway, I knock the door and sometimes it opens and sometimes it doesn't. When doors open, nine out of ten are in dressing gowns. More often than not they are wrapped up in a blanket or a duvet because when you can't afford to eat, you can't afford to heat either.
We exchange brief words.
They say thanks. I say say nae bother.
Other times the door is unanswered. So it's back to the van to make a call. But hardly anyone ever answers the phone to a stranger number. Not when they can't afford to buy food. Because stranger numbers mean people chasing cash. Let it ring out. Shove it under the carpet. Kick the can down the road.
So it is time to send a text.
Hi there. Mark from the food bank here. Your food parcel is at the front door.
And this time the reply is back in seconds.
And sometimes my number is discreetly saved for a coming rainy day. And a week or so later it reappears in my inbox. You brought me a food parcel last week. Is there any chance I could get another please? Because life is still hard to deal with. Because.
And one delivery is followed by another. A pandemic measured first in weeks and then months and now years.
So many pinched faces peering from half open doors.
First hundreds. Then thousands. Now tens of thousands.
And every now and then, one will stand out.
I'm going to call my man Joe because yesterday was very much Joe's day. As I drew up outside my Joe's block, another Joe on the other side of the Atlantic was being anointed as the most powerful man on the planet.
You'll have guessed my man isn't really called Joe. He is called something else.
A parcel for a single person.
I gained access to the block via the trade button.
Like an Amazon guy. Like the white van man I very much am these days.
Knock, knock. Who's there?
Echoes in an empty flat. Fair enough.
Van. Phone. Ring.
And to my surprise my call is met by an actual voice on the other end of the line.
A little confused. A little flustered. A jumble of words which take me a while to unpick.
Joe had been worrying. The social had moved him you see. To another place. Another address. On the other side of town. And he knew there is a food parcel coming. But he didn't know what to do. He wanted to ring the social but he had no credit. And with no credit, he didn't know what to do. Which had been worrying him.
And there was plenty in the voice at the other end of the line to tell me he really HAD been worrying about it. Worrying more that he he really should have been worrying.
We get there in the end.
I tap in his new address and Google maps tells me it is 4 miles across town.
A few minutes later I chap the door and Joe appears in seconds.
No dressing gown.
Jeans and a T shirt.
And nervous darting eyes. Look left, look right, look down.
More jumbled words jostle with each other. And again it takes a while but we get there in the end.
He has no money.
And he won't have any money for a while.
About another month in fact.
And what does he have to do to get another parcel? And another parcel after that. Enough to eat for a month until he gets some money.
Is it even possible? Is it actually allowed?
And inside every word I can hear the rising panic in his voice.
Look right, look left, look down.
Joe. It's fine. It's absolutely nae bother. I will bring you two parcels a week until you get your money.
I know where you are, right? I've got your number. We can do this because it's what we do. Seriously.
But can you do me one favour please, Joe?
Aye. Go on.
Can you text me to make sure I don't forget? Is that OK? Just to make sure.
And all of a sudden the panic in his eyes dials up to full volume.
Look right, look left, look down
Foot tapping now. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
Fast. Urgent. Frantic.
And he's clutching for some words. The right words. The words he needs.
Look right, look left, look down.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
And now the words are here. There right words. The words he's looking for.
"Can't. Can't read. Can't write. Can't text."
Done. Said. Out on the table.
Joe, it's fine. I'll use the calendar on my phone. An alarm, right? For Friday afternoon. My phone will keep me right. You don't need to worry about it, OK?
So Friday then?
Aye. Friday. Thank you. Because I have no money for a month.
I know Joe. And we've got your back, OK?
The door closes.
I get in my van and put Joe's details into my phone for Friday afternoon.
And I pick up my bit of paper and check out the next address.