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Increase food aid for the disadvantaged during pandemic, bishop says

17 April 2020

Dr Smith calls on Government and the ‘financially secure’ to do more to help

The Revd Ellie Trimble

The Revd Ellie Trimble (left) with volunteer co-ordinator Jasmine Franks

The Revd Ellie Trimble (left) with volunteer co-ordinator Jasmine Franks

THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has called on the Government and the “financially secure” to fund food aid for the disadvantaged during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Smith was reacting to new figures from the Food Foundation which suggest that 1.5 million people have gone one whole day without eating since the lockdown began, and 7.1 million have been forced to skip meals.

“It’s been very encouraging to hear of the herculean efforts of many churches in running or contributing to foodbanks,” he said. “However, the Food Foundation’s poll findings indicate a problem on a scale too large for the goodwill and capacity of the community and charities. I urge the Government to act swiftly to ensure that sufficient funds are available and in the right hands to make a difference on the ground. I also urge people who are relatively financially secure in this crisis to continue to be generous to foodbanks and other charities.”

The Revd Ellie TrimbleThe Revd Ellie Trimble loads strawberries provided by FareShare Greater Manchester for distribution to those in self-isolation

He also posted on Twitter: “The Government must put money in the pockets of families who can’t afford food and support local authorities to scale up their food aid response.”

The figures were revealed in a YouGov poll for the Foundation in England, Scotland, and Wales last week. More than one million people reported losing all their income because of the pandemic, and more than one third of them believed that they would not be entitled to any government help. The Foundation’s director, Anna Taylor, said: “This needs urgent and substantial investment from central government, which needs to put money directly into the pockets of families who can’t afford food.”

Two weeks ago, the Government said that it was giving £3.25 million to food-redistribution organisations that were struggling to obtain surplus food where operational barriers in redistribution had risen; volunteer numbers had dropped; and sources of surplus food, such as cafés and restaurants, had shut. It would be used to distribute up to 14,000 tonnes of supplies by aiding collections; sorting, storing, freezing, labelling and repackaging food; and distribution to charities or the public.

The UK’s biggest food charity, FareShare, which redistributes enough surplus to make one million meals a week for vulnerable people, said initially that supplies dropped as producers struggled to counteract widespread panic-buying, but volumes are now increasing. There was also concern about the number of its volunteers, many of whom are over 70. It is now working with the British Red Cross, and 1300 of their volunteers are helping food distribution.

FareShare has almost doubled the quantities that it distributes since a year ago, and has added 250 new charities to its recipients, many of which support children who have no access to free school meals.

The charity’s spokeswoman, Jen Glyn, said: “There’s still much more we can do, and we still need more funding to scale up our response to the crisis so we can keep our warehouses open longer, put more delivery vans on the road, and supply more frontline charities delivering vital food supplies.”

The co-ordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, Sabine Goodwin, said that demand at foodbanks had increased significantly — in some cases by up to 300 per cent in the past year. “They are seeing people who have never visited a foodbank before, but are in a desperate financial situation due to Covid-19.

“Many banks are finding it difficult to access enough food due to a drop in donations, limited food supplies, restrictions by supermarkets on the amount they will sell, and the scale of supplies needed.

“Some independent foodbanks are struggling in terms of volunteer numbers, as many are over 70 and need to self-isolate,” she said. “Some have switched to delivery only, and those still distributing food have imposed strict social distancing. Visitors must stay outside to collect pre-prepared food parcels. . .

“The UK Government needs to urgently take action to reduce the numbers needing help from foodbanks — that means introducing measures including removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit, doubling child benefit, and removing the benefit cap, and significant investment in local authority cash grant schemes.”

the Revd Cathie AldisThe Ashford Town Team Ministry in Kent is sending out Boxes of Hope

The food parcel and children’s meal service run by the Revd Ellie Trimble, Priest-in-Charge of the Church of the Apostles, Manchester, with Miles Platting, has just been told, however, that the food she buys from the FareShare distribution charity will be free for the next three months as a gift from a leading supermarket chain.

Her church already provides 300 cooked meals each day during school holidays, and delivers 200 food parcels a week. “We have what is effectively a commercial kitchen, and we are working with several other charities; so we have a pool of volunteers to call on,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have been furloughed, and they come in to help; so we have professional chefs cooking for us and people portioning and packing up the food. We deliver three days’ worth of food to those who are self-isolating.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, described Ms Trimble as “the genuine article” in a recent post on Twitter. He said that she was “a priest showing what incarnational ministry is about, working among the most vulnerable, as you always do. You may work alongside others, but you also inspire them.”

At the Ashford Town Team Ministry, in Kent, the Revd Cathie Aldis, a former head teacher and now non-stipendary minister, turned her regular “Make Lunch” school-holidays meal offer into a take-away. This week she delivered 34 food parcels — which she calls Boxes of Hope — to nearly 90 children.

“We ensure that in the parcel there is not only healthy eating, but something that is a treat,” she said. “Last weekend, everyone got an Easter Bunny.” Her latest distribution included 100 iced gingerbread men, donated by the operators of Leeds Castle near by. A local authority grant of £1000 to help Make Lunch is on standby to fund the boxes if necessary.

“Most of our food comes from FareShare, or shops or organisations who know if they give us food we can get it out to the right people; so we will use the money to maintain that if we need to,” she said. “It is one of those things where we have seen God at work in the most amazing way, providing for us. As we step out, he just continues to provide.”

The Long Table initiative in Stroud, supported by the diocese of Gloucester, has provided 5000 meals to vulnerable people and NHS staff since the start of the outbreak. The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said that self-isolation had put a “huge financial strain” on families.

“These meals complement basic food packages, and ensure people are eating nutritious food. It has been a privilege to also support the NHS. We have provided freezers in three of our county hospitals and stocked them with meals; so our doctors and nurses have home-cooked meals available to them, hopefully sustaining them through the many hours they are having to work. My thanks . . . go to all the front-line staff.”

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