Lewisham food bank feeding people struggling from food poverty during pandemic

A community initiative in Chinbrook has been feeding people struggling from food poverty throughout the pandemic.

The hyper-local initiative is funded by the Big Local programme, which focuses on areas of deprivation across the UK with a historic lack of investment.

Chinbrook Action Residents Team (ChART) looks into specific community initiatives that would benefit local residents.

Marie Griffin, community project manager with ChART, said: “It’s all about getting people involved and to take ownership of what happens in their local area.”

ChART’s Community Food Project was set up in late 2019 for those struggling with food poverty. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, it has quickly become one of ChART’s key services to the local community.

The food bank, located in the WG Grace Community Centre on the Chinbrook estate, started out running every two weeks, but has since changed to weekly.

The project, which also does a home delivery service for shielding elderly people, serves between 50 to 65 users per week.

Chart Food Project

But the number of people this Community Food Project actually helps is a lot higher.

Many of people who use the service are from households they share with partners, children, grandchildren and other extended family.

With over 100 people registered, numbers are expected to rise during the latest lockdown.

Marie, who joined ChART in September, was overwhelmed by the sense of community in the area.

“The local residents really care about each other. It feels like a little country village here – everybody knows each other and everybody is looking out for each other.

“Some of our volunteers have used a food bank themselves in the past and some just want to help the local community,” she said.

The initiative puts up few barriers for those who need to use it. There is no means test – residents just call up and get registered.

Marie said: “We don’t want to put up a huge barrier of asking them to fill in loads of forms and asking loads of questions because we don’t want to put people off.”

It’s also been surprising for the team who needs support.

“We’re aware of the fact that some people outwardly might look like they’re very prosperous but the people living in food poverty is always surprising us.

“They could be people who are working, they could be people who have been furloughed.

“We’re not being judgemental – we just want to get the food out to people who need it.”

Some being helped by the food bank have spoken about their experiences.  

One said: “I live with my partner. I have asthma, anxiety and depression.

“Someone in my family died of Covid-19 and it has really affected me. I can’t see my grandson who has special needs.

“He finds it hard to understand why he can’t come to my house to see me and his granddad.

“Over the summer my benefits were cut. We could not afford to buy food to last for a full week. The foodbank means we have enough to eat. It has stopped me worrying so much.”

A grandmother looks after her two teenage grandchildren and has been struggling.

“Their parents are not involved and they are not able to provide any financial support for their children’s support.

“I am on benefits and I find it hard to be able to afford to feed my two grandchildren. The foodbank means I can.

“I don’t know what I would have done had it not been for this support I get for my family,” she said.

The project has received local donations and support along the way.

Coopers Lane Primary School hosted a ‘we scare hunger’ dress-up day and collected more than 1,800 cans and packets.

It was enough for food parcels for 55 families over two and half weeks.

Marie said: “It really floored us the generosity at Christmas. That donation from the school was amazing.”

The foodbank also received 25 Christmas hampers from King’s Church London, with the help of Volunteer Services Lewisham.

The local Costcutter and Brooks Pharmacy, both on Chinbrook Road, became donation points for the project.

“Simone Riddle and Laura Tilbury from Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency have supported us tirelessly and arranged for a weekly FareShare delivery.

“Lidl arranged a shopping slot for us before the main store opening so we could safely get supplies, and Voluntary Services Lewisham supplied the transport.

“Thank you hardly seems to cover it, the impact these donations have can’t be overstated. We are so grateful for all the support from partner organisations and individuals,” Marie said.

The initiative has nine volunteers, who say working at the foodbank has helped them as well.

One said: “I live nearby and I wanted to help my community during these difficult times. I am unable to work, due to chronic back pain.

“This is a way to get me out of my home. I love the friends I have made through volunteering at the foodbank.

“Throughout the lock down and the other restrictions that followed afterwards, it was a way to keep in touch with my local community.

“I really like dealing with people who come to our foodbank. It has helped me to deal with my anxiety and stress levels caused by this pandemic.”

The initiative is also looking into offering a second food bank and more services to help local people.


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