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Sarha's story: the next food bank client could be you

When I met her at the food bank I assumed Sarha Chalmers was like me, comparatively well-off with notions of giving something back to society. She's smart, fortyish, cheerful and outgoing.

But I sit down with her for a chat in a lull today and find she's a former client of the food bank.

She's happy for me to name her, and her story is simple: after nursing her dying mother she found herself out of a job and dependent on benefits.

She owned her own home but was unable to pay the mortgage and feed herself too.

She became badly depressed: "I just didn't want to be here," she says, and I realise she doesn't mean just here in Glasgow.

The depression meant she was officially listed as sick by the DWP, and though that meant she didn't have to keep up the job-hunting officials normally demand, she was, she says, treated like a criminal by them: "I had my first part-time job when I was 12 and have worked hard all my life. They were making out that I was trying to cheat the system. I was furious."

Her family helped but eventually her sister Olivia brought her to the food bank.

It was, Sarha says, awful: "I was so mortified I didn't know where to look," but it was also a turning point. As well as getting Sarha some filling meals again, she and Olivia volunteered to help out at the Blawarthill bank.

Sarha was valued again, getting the kind of satisfaction she got from a job, colleagues, a bit of daft banter: we do have fun here. It was a shot in the arm for her, and with confidence boosted she quickly got a full-time job again: cue the upbeat and optimistic woman I know.

She and her sister are part of the heart and soul of the food bank still, and Olivia brings her kids along to help in the holidays. Sarha is delighted that she has been able to help another client to the point that he is now back in work, and they have been involved in other volunteer work through the bank.

I suspect too that Sarha's is not an uncommon story: at least two other regular core volunteers are former clients, and in recent weeks I have seen a couple of people who've been in for parcels pitch in and get on with helping out.

The benefit of a food bank is not just giving people food, and advising them on what they can do to help themselves - it gives us all, including me, an enhanced sense of purpose.

I just hope if life ever gets the better of me there's something like the food bank and people like Sarha and the rest of the gang to help me back from the brink.

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