Food vouchers: Make your own and build community

StCatherinesAlmshouseExeterYes, the beautiful city of Exeter, England has folks who are homeless and hungry — and judging by these almshouse ruins, it’s been acting on this issue for centuries. I recently stumbled across a remarkably clear description of a voucher scheme used during the 1990s by the Palace Gate Project, a Methodist-based initiative in the city center. Would such an “app-free” method work to build community today?  Here’s how it was done, according to Trevor Gardner‘s account, Faith in Exeter: The Story of the Palace Gate Project :

The Voucher Scheme is a straightforward, safe and efficient way of supplying food to homeless and hungry people…The arrangements are simple. The vouchers are printed in two-colours and serial-numbered for reasons of security. They have a face value of  £1 and bear details of the outlets where they can be exchanged. Having bought them, the purchasers (e.g., members of the public, church leaders, agencies in the city) may choose to distribute them personally or else buy them for the Project to distribute. The vouchers have a six-month expiry date. This is mainly for auditing purpose and works well… Purchasers may return unused vouchers to the Project, which then reissues them with a new six-month expiry date. On presenting the voucher(s) at the food outlet, the homeless person receives the food and drink requested – but no change. Once a month, the outlets where the vouchers are exchanged send them with an invoice to the Palace Gate Project, where they are redeemed and a cheque sent by…post. No commissions are paid, there is no administrative charge and the value of the transaction at the food outlet usually totals within a few pence of the voucher value. …[T]he scheme has broken even so far since a number of the vouchers sold to members of the public are not presented at food outlets…For every such voucher ‘lost’ … the Palace Gate Project makes £1: so far this had paid for printing costs….Although business pressures have forced a couple of food outlets to withdraw others have taken their place…. Members of the public are glad, of course, to feel that their impotence has been overcome and that they can offer practical help to  people begging in the street but the Project workers are in a position to give vouchers not only to people in need but those whose need is greatest. Experience has shown that not all who beg in the streets are among the most needy, although they clearly have needs. In fact, it is even possible that the most needy are too proud to beg and do not stand out in a crowd.

[source: Trevor Gardner with Richard Frost, Faith in Exeter: The Story of the Palace Gate Project (Exeter: Palace Gate Project, 1996), 49-51, select excerpts.
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