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Jonathan Wales, Hastings Food Bank manager, in one of the storerooms at the Hastings Centre.

Food poverty charities face higher demand due to Covid

 Although Christmas and Boxing Day gatherings are ruled out, local groups battling food poverty are ready for an unusually busy Christmas period, with the numbers facing hardship exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Nick Terdre reports.

Food poverty refuses to stay out of the headlines. In the wake of footballer Marcus Rashford’s popular campaign for underprivileged schoolchildren, last week it transpired that the UN children’s agency Unicef is helping to fund breakfast boxes for vulnerable school children in Southwark over the Christmas holidays.

Across Hastings support charities are readying their Christmas arrangements at a time when the Covid-19 virus has pushed many more families and individuals below the poverty line. The development has stretched the resources of frontline bodies like Hastings Food Bank to the limit.

“A new group has been brought into food bank usage,” Jonathan Wales, the Hastings Food Bank manager, told HOT. “We haven’t yet seen the full fallout from the current situation.” Government measures such as the furlough scheme and the hold on evictions has provided vital support for many, but as and when this support is withdrawn, the numbers needing help will grow again.

On Friday the food bank – which is based at Hastings Centre on The Ridge and part of the Tressell Trust, the country’s largest food bank network – received 57 vouchers issued by referral agencies for food parcels. Each parcel contains a week’s food for the number of people in the recipient’s family. Since each voucher represents on average three persons, making a total of more than 150 in Friday’s case, and a week’s supply of three meals a day equates to 21 meals per person, that makes a total of some 3,150 meals packed and delivered in just one day.

At the spring height of the pandemic, all parcels were being delivered, and Hastings Food Bank was operating five days a week, from 9 to 5. But now most recipients are collecting their parcel, either from the food bank base which is open on Mondays and Fridays from 11 to 3, or from Cambridge Hall, opposite ESK in the town centre, which is open at the same hours on Wednesdays. Deliveries are still made to those who are self-isolating or shielding.

“There’s been an amazing response from different groups and organisations,” Jonathan said. There is also more joint planning and working among the various support groups and authorities through an emergency food forum. “Unfortunately food poverty is so great that to provide effective support through this time has needed collaborative thinking and planning.”

In the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, some 100 new volunteers joined up, many of them employees on furlough. At any time the food bank has around 70 volunteers hard at work. “In general it’s not as bad as it was at the peak, but it’s still worse than at any time since before Covid,” Jonathan said.

Christmas Day sessions cancelled

Surviving the Streets and Surviving Christmas have both had to cancel their usual indoor Christmas Day events offering a slap-up meal, entertainment and hospitality – and in the case of Surviving Christmas, the Boxing Day event too.

Instead Surviving the Streets will be making home deliveries of a meal on Christmas Day, prepared at the Y Centre where they usually hold their event, co-founder James Robinson told HOT.

They will also be present on the streets of Hastings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, supporting the homeless and destitute with food and small presents for children, and in Eastbourne on Boxing Day.

The charity has just launched its new concept of a digital food bank whereby those seeking support can apply by phone or online and be given a number to access provisions in a locker. By bringing more anonymity to the process, James says, it will help those who are reluctant to be seen in public collecting a food parcel.

Mayor Nigel Sinden inaugurates the first lockers installed as part of Surviving the Streets UK’s digital food bank (photo: Surviving the Streets UK).

In an initial trial phase lockers have been installed at the charity’s Hastings office, but eventually James hopes to see them rolled out to various locations around Hastings and Eastbourne.

Although the government is funding the provision of emergency accommodation to keep the homeless off the streets where they are at risk from the coronavirus, it’s no secret that there are some who refuse to take up the offer. “In Hastings we regularly see 15-20 on the streets, and a lot more in Eastbourne,” said James.

A table-full of small presents at Surviving Christmas (photo: Surviving Christmas Facebook page).

Although its Christmas and Boxing Day events have been cancelled, Surviving Christmas continues with its other major activity, delivering food hampers in Hastings and Rother. According to their website, they have delivered more than 700 hampers in the run-up to Christmas, on a par with previous years. The hampers were packed at the Salvation Army hall which is their normal operational base.

Food parcels from EFT

Meanwhile the Education Futures Trust, which helped to fill the half-term gap for famiies with children receiving free school meals, is providing a similar food parcel service over the Christmas holiday, when it plans to deliver an additional 200 parcels.

Already this year it has delivered over 2,000 Sustain and Thrive hampers totalling over 77,000 meals to families in need.

Ten EFT staff have volunteered to help during their holidays, along with six regular volunteers. The mayor and deputy mayor will also be on hand to help during this busy time.

“Funding has been received from FareShare, ESCC and Hastings Food Action,” CEO Carole Dixon told HOT. “We’re incredibly grateful to our volunteers and staff who have given their time during the festive period to help families most in need this Christmas.

“Local people have also been incredibly generous, and we have received gifts and food from a range of people and businesses, including the WI, The Stables Theatre, More Radio Sussex and many others.

“We’re so pleased we’ll be able to continue delivering our food hampers during this difficult time.”

EFT plans to deliver 200 food parcels over the Christmas period (photo: EFT).

For referral to Hastings Food Bank call the Hastings Borough Council helpline (01424 451 019) or Hastings Citizens Advice helpline (01424 869352)

Surviving the Streets UK: website, 07929 176462

Surviving Christmas Hastings & Rother; Facebook page07802 451940

Education Futures Trust: website, 01424 722241

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Posted 14:48 Tuesday, Dec 22, 2020 In: Charities

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