Sometimes on Facebook we get messages from people who comment on the fact that Hope charges a small amount of money for some of the food we provide and some of the clothes. People say things like, its ‘disgusting’ or make allegations about how staff sell the best donated clothes on Ebay or take them themselves. We want to set the matter straight.
We charge for hot food that we cook: its £1.80 for a full breakfast or a lunch; 30p for cereal. Unlimited drinks are all free.
We do this to help pay the cost of cooking, employing a chef five days a week and to cover heat and light. We pay several thousands of pounds to rent the kitchen and we receive only £10k a year from Northampton Borough and nothing from anyone else. The rest we work phenomenally hard to raise from charity, often working weekends and evenings. The amounts we charge don’t cover our costs at all. That’s not why we charge.
Remember also, there is also a lot of cold or uncooked food that we give away free – bread, croissants, ham and cheese, for example, every morning. If someone was desperate, we will give them food. People do not go away hungry if they have nothing, or have no ability to earn it.
People can earn food, by cleaning, or engaging in activities; and they can get budgeting advice to manage what they have. Charging is is quite deliberate. The reality is that due to addiction, many of our service users would use the money they could spend on food, on buying drink or drugs. You could argue that’s their choice, but it’s ours too whether we collude with it. We try to give responsibility to people and try to reduce the amount of money they spend on their addictions. Not all who come in are without money; many have benefits, not generous, but it’s income. We are not here to maintain people in unhealthy, dependent, begging lifestyles.

We are about change.

We believe just giving away free food, without any control, is wrong; it’s a mistake that helps nobody. Others do, and by doing so they undermine our efforts to drive change. Some of our users choose to go somewhere else for free lunches some days and then often spend the money they would have spent on food, on drugs. After a weekend in which a much liked service user who had been planning to start a new social enterprise with us died, we are unclear how, we would rather some other services show some thought about whether their approach is actually part of the problem.
For the same reason we charge 70p for a bag of takeway tins etc. We used to give it away and people just walked outside and threw a load of food they didn’t want on the ground. They could get so much from foodbanks, they could be choosy. The same people rotate around all the foodbanks because they can and it’s a completely unregulated system, where all the providers think they are doing good. Are they doing harm? Is food being wasted?
It’s the same with the clothes. Yes, we pick out items from the clothes that come in that can be sold on Ebay, because if we can sell it for £20 rather than the 30p we charge our service users that’s money we can spend on staffing or heating. Nobody needs to wear Prada or Gucci shoes; I don’t think many staff do, so it seems reasonable to us to ensure we maximise income where we can by selling them to someone who can afford to rather than put them up for service users for 30p. No staff benefit. No staff choose the best items for their own use. If they did, they would be disciplined for theft. It’s all sold, or given away free, like underwear, which you can see from recent appeals that we struggle to get enough of.
So next time you read a critical message, or even want to leave a message saying we should be giving it all away, stop for a minute, and think what it costs to run a day centre; think what the true cost is from giving food away free – and consider whether it allows people the freedom to spend all their money on drugs that often kill them.
RIP Richard X. Much mourned