A Little Help from My Friends

June, Glorious June!
Hello, Summer, is that you? Despite all the trials and tribulations of 2020 thus far, the warmer days, lightening evenings and growing greens give us hope that better days are ahead. We are especially excited to welcome this seasonal change and all the new veg coming into harvest. This also marks the last week of Hodmedod's dried goods (except for V++), as we'll soon be swimming in so many seasonal options that the phrase 'hungry gap' will only refer to your afternoon snack time.

Is your favourite vegetable below? Get ready, because here comes June:

Asparagus, Aubergines, Basil, Broad Beans, Bunched Beetroot, Chard, Courgettes, Fennel, Globe Artichokes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mini Cucumbers, New Potatoes, Peppers, Rhubarb, Salad, Spinach, Spring Onions, Tenderstem Broccoli, Tomatoes, Wet Garlic

A Little Help from My Friends
Our customers continue to delight us with their generosity and community spirit. Over the past two weeks, we’ve taken crates full of your donations to the Norwood & Brixton Food Bank. Many of you have supported the food bank in the past, opting to donate your veg bags while you’re on holiday or contributing directly to their funding. As we reflect on recent weeks, we decided to call in to our friends at N&BFB and discover how their realities have shifted and what your support really means to them.
 
Elizabeth Maytom, Project Manager at the food bank since 2011, is the first to admit she wishes the food bank didn’t exist. “There should be a safety net to help people get on their feet and have money to buy food themselves,” she explains. The Trussell Trust, which operates N&BFB and over 1200 food banks across the UK, is on a mission to end hunger throughout Britain, and in effect, put itself out of business. They have operated in Lambeth since 2011, and have additional distribution points in Waterloo and Vauxhall to serve the whole borough.
 
Chances are the world of food vouchers and benefits is a remote and complex system with which many of our customers are not familiar. It's a service for those less fortunate, surely not your neighbour, or even your own family. Yet, in the wake of the pervasive disruption of Covid-19, this is proving far from true. The food bank is for every household that finds itself in crisis. As Elizabeth describes, it exists to serve, “people who are struggling on benefits, universal credit...[however] in the past few months, we’ve seen people who normally wouldn’t ever come to a food bank. We have freelancers whose work stopped the day after the lockdown announcement, people maxed out on credit cards with normal bills they can’t cover and find everything fall from underneath them. There are people under the radar falling through systems, and people who were once very comfortable in their life before the pandemic.”
 
An ordinary week at the food bank would see staff and volunteers meeting those in need in face-to-face sessions, distributing about 100 food parcels and offering advice on benefits, housing, healthcare, budgeting, and a friendly chat and a tea. Back in March, the food bank had only three days to rework the entire system, and move to digital vouchers and delivery-only service. They now distribute about 90 parcels a day – squeezing the work that once spanned a week into a single workday. Wow. Elizabeth and her team thought this worst-case scenario would never happen. “Any other organization would have meetings, committees, pilot programs to test everything, and we just had to do it. Literally, just had to press go,” she says.
 
At the height of panic buying, food bank stock levels hit rock bottom. For some weeks, they relied primarily on fresh fruit and vegetables to create parcels, which would otherwise have been quite sparse. “ We just couldn’t get canned veg. Milk was impossible to get,” Elizabeth recalls. “One week in April we had 4.5 tonnes of food remaining. We were going through about 1.5 tonnes a day, and realized there was less than a week of food left until our shelves would be empty.” In these dire moments, the food bank put out a call for donations, and benevolently, many people stepped up to fill the gaps. There is always a small supply of fresh fruit and veg throughout the year, but with uncertainty mounting on the shelves, the food bank took the move to buy large quantities of fresh produce from Local Greens (produce is supplied at cost from suppliers and subsidised by us at no profit). “It was a boon to us because we can rely on it and we know it will arrive. Ninety-percent of people want fresh vegetables now,’ Elisabeth continues, “In the past it was a struggle to get people to take fresh veg. Live is too chaotic; opening a can is easier. But I think this has changed people’s attitudes.”
 
At present, the food bank is in short supply of cereal, tinned meat, tinned pulses, and soap. "We have absolutely no soap,” Elisabeth states, “Basic bars would be fantastic,” so everyone has access to washing their hands. This month they will begin to offer phone support for people to remotely chat about their needs, under a program with the comforting name "Time for a Cuppa.”  The food bank is not expecting to open in-person sessions before September. Elisabeth reflects that, “as autumn comes we’ll have to think about the weather. Maybe deliveries continue for longer. We don’t know yet if our model will change for the long term. We have a long road ahead of us.” Security nets, like the food bank, are woven into our society’s fabric, but it is an imperfect weave with many gaps. Global crisis has shown that you just never know what could happen. Myriads of people now know first hand that you are only one or two paychecks away from a crisis. Fortunately, they also now know they have friends to offer support and catch them if they slip through those gaps.
 
To learn more about the food bank, donation or volunteer, visit their website.
Read The Times photo essay on N&BFB (subscription required)