Melanie Rochford, head of business and development for Hackney Foodbank, estimates there has been a 50 per cent increase in people claiming food parcels in the area since social distancing began.
“Last year the primary trigger for food poverty was low pay. We are now seeing even more people coming to the service because they are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Businesses can’t afford to keep them on,” she said.
Rochford shared her experience in a discussion with Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Deborah Sayagh, head of strategic client partnerships at Investec.
“I’m now being contacted by people who have never got in touch before,” agreed Hillier. “We must break down assumptions about who uses a food bank. These are proud working people in a desperate situation.”
It’s been an absolute lifeline. I don’t know what we would have done without it.
Melanie Rochford, Hackney Foodbank
How we can help
Foodbanks have struggled to get the supplies they need through normal means. “We simply couldn’t get the volume of items we needed from local supermarkets,” admitted Rochford. Shockingly, her team were also abused while shopping. “I was sworn at while filling a trolley when wearing a Hackney Foodbank fleece. Some shoppers don’t seem to care for others in dire straits,” she said.
We encourage other organisations to look at how they can leverage their own networks to help people in need at this time.
Deborah Sayagh, Investec Private Banking
Staffed with an army of volunteers from the local community – many of whom have been furloughed from their jobs – Rochford says the third week of the Hackney Foodbank initiative is “going well” and lessons are being learned for the future. The next challenge is to make sure that people who now find themselves in need are aware of the service.
“One of the main issues is digital connectivity,” says Hillier. “There is a digital divide in these boroughs and many people do not have home Internet access or data on a mobile phone, so it is more difficult for them to access help now that libraries are closed.”
Investec has long-standing relationships in the three boroughs nearest its London offices and supports causes working to improve education, entrepreneurship and the environment for local people. Faced with the food crisis, “within minutes we said ‘we must do this’,” said Sayagh. “It’s been an honour to be able to help and we will continue to find ways to do so.” Support will be extended beyond the initial 12-week period if necessary.
Hillier hopes other individuals and organisations will take the same approach: “My hope is that people won’t forget the reality of the crisis after coronavirus,” she concluded. “Long-term relationships are essential and can change lives.”
Investec's UK food bank initiative:
total number of food items delivered in week one
estimated increase in the number of people using Hackney Foodbank during the coronavirus crisis
the local boroughs supported by Investec through its community partnerships