“I found out about The Food Chain for the first time through the Terrence Higgins Trust nurse at the HIV clinic, four years ago. I explained the situation that I was in – some days I went without eating and I had to make some very difficult choices about where to spend money – and so I was referred to The Food Chain. I’ve always been self-reliant and I found it borderline embarrassing to ask for help.
“I had so much going on at the time. I was just recovering from being homeless, and had a battle to get benefits. I had lost a lot of weight and my main worry always was money. I was not in a good place.
“After I was referred to the Food Chain, I spoke with the dietitian there and the first service I received was a grocery delivery. I had the service for 6 weeks just before Christmas and the system that the charity has in place was wonderful and went like clockwork.
“It’s a shame that the delivery didn’t last longer but it made me feel much better. It made such a difference to me in many ways: it reduced my shopping bill considerably and I didn’t run out of food – I had things that kept for a long time and there were plenty of supplies. I also put on weight and for me that’s quite hard as I find it easy to lose weight – but harder to put it on, as I’m tall.
“The Food Chain gave me much greater peace of mind – I felt more chilled out. I remember one blood test that I had after receiving their services and it turned out that the results were the best I had ever seen, and I couldn’t believe it. I was in very good shape and I couldn’t remember feeling like that before. Good nutrition makes all the difference.
“I believe to the core that you have to give back what is offered to you. The Food Chain cameto my rescue at a time when I needed it the most so I decided to volunteer.I trained with the charity to volunteer as a Kitchen Assistant at Eating Together, the communal meal service. Before being referred, I was working as a chef so this experience gave me my confidence back. I learned to appreciate again the value of small things like being on time, working as a team and even doing the washing up! I feel that volunteering definitely empowered me with self-worth and respect.
“During this time, The Food Chain team was like a family to me and I got involved as often as I could, whether in the kitchen or out there, collecting donations from the public. They were also among the first people I told about my new job as head chef, having recovered from long periods of ill-health and looking again to the future.
“Settled in my job and in my new flat, I was about to turn 50 and planning my birthday bash. Unfortunately in October last year, ill-health got the better of me again and I got referred to The Food Chain once more. I received the bad news that I had cancer.
“I lost the job I worked so hard to get and the profession that I love. My time was spent going to hospital for chemotherapy and struggling to afford my rent.
“The assessment of my benefit entitlements was a battle of its own. Despite my critical health circumstances, I needed to undergo a thorough interview process to find out whether I was eligible to receive welfare support from the state. I felt undermined during interviews, my 25-year residency in the UK was called into question and I was even told that I was fit to work!
“This situation dragged on for four months. Even electricity became a luxury as I was struggling to find just £20 to put on the meter to stay warm during the cold snap. I was terrified I would end up homeless again, and felt under immense pressure emotionally. I had lost so much weight and could barely sleep. I was desperate and resigned myself to turn to others for help.
“The direct support of The Food Chain was invaluable: the food I received helped me to get the strength I needed to take one day at a time. Even though I felt at times too depressed to go out of my flat, coming for lunch at Eating Together was a much-needed opportunity to talk things through with others after days spent on my own.
When I felt that my health was stable enough, I plucked up the courage to search for work again. The Food Chain team encouraged me to talk to a local community café they heard were looking for a chef. I was on a job trial for a week and felt unbelievably happy to go to work every day. My good mood must have shone through as I landed the full time position of head chef shortly after. As luck would have it, I also started to receive back payments of the benefits I was owed.”