Join our campaign to Help The Hungry

The Independent is calling for support to get food to the most vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis – and you can help

Adam Forrest,May Bulman
Tuesday 07 April 2020 19:48 BST
The Independent and Evening Standard launches the Help The Hungry campaign

The Independent has launched an appeal to help those going hungry because of the coronavirus crisis.

From parents struggling to feed their families after losing their jobs to the vulnerable who have been told to stay inside for the good of their health, thousands across the country now need our help – while many who already used food banks are relying on them more than ever.

Across Britain, community hubs are being set up in response to the outbreak to deliver food to many of these people. We have teamed up with The Felix Project – a start-up charity we helped launch in 2016 – to deliver produce to community hubs in London boroughs.

The Independent is also asking food charities across Britain to contact to tell us about your project and help build a directory of ways that our readers can help the hungry in their area – through money, volunteering and food donations. Food banks, which were already struggling to meet the need for emergency food parcels, have seen a huge surge in demand in recent weeks, while at the same time coping with dwindling donations, supermarket rationing systems, and a loss of many volunteers to self-isolation – yet none of the government’s rescue money goes to them.

British households have stored more than £1bn worth of goods in their homes in response to the pandemic, creating shortages for food banks as shoppers ignore assurances that supply chains are robust.

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP who recently ran for party leader, has backed our campaign, saying: “Nobody should be in the position of not being able to get enough food. In my constituency, London and in places all around the UK the coronavirus pandemic is placing extra stress on a system that was already straining.

“We should all do what we can to help food and other essentials get to those that need it. That is why I’m backing the Help the Hungry campaign – please give if you are able.”

Pastor Obi Onyeabor, the manager at Barking Foodbank, part of The Trussell Trust’s national network, said his pool of around 50 volunteers has been reduced by a dozen or so people currently self-isolating at home. Yet he and his team have kept their two church hall food banks open, and are now making home deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make sure the most vulnerable get supplies.

“We have been scrambling for the past couple of weeks, doing all that we can – but we’re appealing for more people to come and help,” he said. “Out of fear people have been buying for themselves and their families, but I’ve seen some real generosity too.

“I hope that if we can get past the panic buying stage, more people will want to give money, food or some of their time too.”

In London, charities like The Felix Project donate 10 tons of food – or 22,000 meals – to the needy every day. But funding has dropped since the outbreak of Covid-19, limiting their capacity to carry out vital work at a time when it is more important than ever. As part of the London Food Alliance, along with FareShare and City Harvest, The Felix Project will coordinate deliveries in London boroughs in order to distribute surplus food to the elderly, poor and vulnerable. The charities will deliver food to the hubs, where local volunteers will package up parcels and arrange “last-mile” deliveries to the homes of the vulnerable.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has backed our campaign to help in the capital in partnership with our sister title the Evening Standard. He said: “In a city as prosperous as London, everyone should have enough food to feed themselves and their families – but unfortunately the coronavirus outbreak means some Londoners are facing even greater difficulties. It’s commendable these organisations are joining forces to help ensure surplus food isn’t wasted and instead reaches those who need it most. I urge Londoners to support this crucial initiative.”

Mark Curtin, CEO of The Felix Project, said: “Our role is to pick up large volumes of nutritious surplus food from the commercial sector and deliver it to community hubs to ensure there is enough food for vulnerable people for as long as this health crisis ensues. We will be working all hours doing our bit – and it would be wonderful if your readers can get behind us so we can do this job for London.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, which supports 1,200 food banks, appealed for help from the public to get vital food to people who cannot afford the basics, and to boost volunteer numbers in areas where they are needed.

“Our main priority as coronavirus unfolds is ensuring the safety of everyone who comes to a food bank – whether it’s someone needing help, someone volunteering their time, or someone making a donation,” said Ms Revie. “Until we are confident that adequate government protection against poverty is in place, food banks provide an essential community service to people unable to afford food. But this should not fall to food banks.

The Independent Daily Edition front page, 22 March 2020

“Our benefits system could be the life raft people need now. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we end the five-week wait for universal credit. While incredible food bank volunteers continue to help people unable to afford the basics, we would ask our government to take this essential step and end the five-week wait now. It’s five weeks too long.”

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network UK, which oversees 834 independent food banks, said the charitable services were “struggling to stay above water” in the current climate and accused the government of so far “failing to act” to prevent an ever-increasing number of people falling into poverty.

“Food bank use was rising before the coronavirus outbreak and the impact of job losses can only make matters far worse. But this catastrophe in the making is avoidable,” she said. “We’re calling for an income-based solution to this crisis which would mean that the Herculean efforts by volunteers across the country wouldn’t be needed.“

FareShare, the UK’s biggest food redistribution charity, is also calling for more volunteers to help with packing and making van deliveries. The organisation takes food from the food manufacturers that can’t be sold in shops, either because of packaging errors or overproduction, and gets it out to food banks, hospices, homeless hostels and other charities.

Commercial director Alyson Walsh estimates around 1,200 people have got in touch over the past week. “We have quite a lot of older volunteers who have had to stay at home, but we are now seeing a wave of interest in new people willing to fill in.”

Ms Walsh added: “We know we have the capacity to do more – we have the warehouse space and the chillers. But the government needs to help the food industry do more in terms of all the bagging and boxing and delivery of food that needs to be done.”

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