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Pet foodbank at London church draws crowds

10 February 2023

ST MATTHEW WITH ST JAMES THE GREAT

The pet-foodbank founder Grace Hui, and the Revd Erin Clark, with her dog, Søren

The pet-foodbank founder Grace Hui, and the Revd Erin Clark, with her dog, Søren

A CHURCH in east London has set up a foodbank for pet-owners who might not otherwise be able to afford to feed their beloved animals.

“Leonard’s Lunchbox”, at St Matthew with St James the Great, Bethnal Green, is named after one of the three dogs rescued by its founder, Grace Hui. “I work with a lot of animal-rescue centres, and I know how much they contribute to people’s mental well-being,” she said. “Giving up your pet because you can’t afford to feed it would feel like letting down your best friend.”

The new pet service follows the rapid growth of Bethnal Green Foodbank, founded at the church in January 2020. It is now based in a redundant school, and supports about 900 people a week.

The Rector, the Revd Erin Clark, said that she had noticed foodbank customers choosing pet supplies over food for themselves. “It’s quite a sacrifice to make,” she said. “It was a sign of just how much pets mean to people. Then I was approached by some parishioners who said they wanted to set up something that could support pet-owners through the cost-of-living crisis.

‘Hang on, haven’t they been in several times today already?’

“As far as I know, it’s the only foodbank specifically for animals. We do not realise how much people rely on their pets for their mental well-being. There is a lot of poverty around here, and other social issues; I think, for a lot of people, their pet is their lifeline — it is what gets them out; it is a big part of their well-being.”

The pet foodbank in the church hall was launched in December. Last week, on its busiest day yet, it had nearly 30 clients. “It’s going really well,” Ms Clark said. “It’s run by local volunteers who provide all the stock. It started with dog and cat food, and we have since had requests for [food for] hamsters and guinea pigs. Bethnal Green has a very well-known tropical fish shop; so I am soon expecting requests for fish food.”

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