Food charities need volunteers for Christmas push, amid warnings of holiday hunger

Organisations report rising demand for help, despite government’s decision to provide extra support

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Wednesday 11 November 2020 10:14
Help the Hungry: Olivia Colman visits The Felix Project

Charities providing vital food packages are appealing for extra volunteers to help out with their Christmas collection drive, amid rising concern about holiday hunger.  

Food banks have warned about the growing demand for emergency support, as Covid-related job losses and reduced hours push more people into hardship.

One food bank in Tunbridge Wells said it was preparing for a 200 per cent increase in demand for parcels over the holiday. 

“The sad reality is that numbers are rising week on week,” said Nourish Community Foodbank’s operations manager Dawn Stanford. 

“We are preparing to deal with a peak at Christmas where we may be delivering to between 150 per cent to 200 per cent more people than an average week, pre-Covid 19,” she said.

FareShare and the Trussell Trust are looking for people to volunteer to collect food in Tesco stores across the UK between 19 and 21 November so they have enough to distribute across the country during December.

“We would be hugely grateful to anyone who is able to volunteer this year to encourage more shoppers to donate much-needed food to those who need it most,” said FareShare’s development manager Mike Barrett.

Other charities are changing how they operate to meet the demand for help. One organisation in Scotland which usually gives seasonal gifts to children living in poverty said they would provide food instead.  

The With Kids charity – which usually sets up a “giving tree” in a Glasgow shopping centre so customers can donate specific presents children requested – put up a message this year summarising the kind of hardship many are facing. It asks: “All I want for Christmas is … beans on toast so I’m not hungry.”

Suzy Blair, family co-ordinator at With Kids, said: “There are children and vulnerable people who go hungry frequently. We didn’t want to focus just on presents when there are so many other needs. So we’re aiming to provide food vouchers and other vouchers so parents can buy gifts as well as continue our emotional support throughout the year.”

Help the Hungry campaign: Jose Mourinho digs to support campaign

The Felix Project, which delivers surplus food to the most vulnerable, has served over 13.5 million meals since the first lockdown began, with the support of The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign. 

Funds donated via our appeal – run along with our sister title the Evening Standard – have helped it quadruple capacity, and deliver about two million meals a month.

The organisation is still looking for volunteers to sort food in its north London warehouses, as well as volunteer drivers, to get supplies out to smaller charities across the capital in the weeks ahead.

It follows Boris Johnson’s decision to back down and agree to spend more than £400m on extra support for some of the poorest families in England, following the widely-praised campaign by football star Marcus Rashford.

The package pledged by the PM includes £170m for a winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families, as well as an extension to the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks in 2021.

While charities largely welcomed the Rashford-inspired U-turn, some warned many families would still struggle to cope over Christmas – and would be hit by the end of the £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit in April.

“Families need to know that they’re not going to be £1000 down next year, when the increase ends in April,” said Becca Lyon of Save the Children UK.

Last month the Food Foundation reported on the explosion in the number of children registering for free school meals in the wake of the pandemic, with 900,000 pupils signing up for the first time this year, on top of the 1.4 million who were already claiming.

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