You might think that, with restrictions beginning to ease, things would at last be looking up for those who’ve been struggling during the pandemic.
Yet our Newham foodbank is now feeding record numbers of 200 people or more on a typical Wednesday – more than at any time in its history.
The pandemic has also forced us to change the way we operate our Newham foodbank and take a more transactional approach with our service, in order to keep everybody safe. We know from talking to our guests that, with so many being made redundant during the lockdown or unable to access public funds, they are solely relying on foodbanks to feed their families and falling into debt as a means to pay their rent and bills. But with such a vast number of families visiting the foodbank, despite the best efforts of our amazing team of staff and volunteers, there is not the time or capacity to hear everyone’s story.
That’s why we launched our Family Fuelbank this January. Each Wednesday, our food bank team members take a list of families’ names and then our children and families team contacts them to offer a 1:1 socially-distanced follow-up appointment on a Thursday to lend a listening ear and discuss their wider poverty challenges and their hopes for the future.
In less than two months, we managed to schedule sessions with 70 families to learn about their skills, assess their needs for support and understand their hopes and dreams beyond Covid. This, of course, includes the many children too.
Many of the situations we encounter each week are complex, and deeply distressing. We have heard tough stories of families of four sharing a bed as the single room which they rent will not accommodate more than one bed. Stories of children sleeping on floors with no duvets. Mothers crying because they cannot afford electricity for heating and cooking. Even a young boy with a disability not having a TV or toys to give him the sensory stimulation he needs.
On a practical level, through the Covid Winter grant scheme and some generous one-off donations, we have been supporting them to pay utility bills for cold households, giving out supermarket and clothing vouchers for urgent needs, and helping to try and secure laptops and essentials for children.
We have also partnered with Oliver Thomas Nursery and The Renewal Programme to offer free immigration advice and help plug them into borough-wide children’s services and offer support in signing up for nursery placements.
So far, we’ve made connections with 88 adults and 91 children through the Fuelbank. As we journey together and as restrictions begin to lift, we hope to support them further by linking them into our other services such as coffee mornings, sports and garden activities, summer scheme and youth project. Already, the children have access to our clothing bank and youth forums while parents with under 5s have the opportunity to join our virtual stay and play sessions.
Ultimately, our dream is that many of these families who came to us in distress during the pandemic will find a real sense of community and play a role in shaping and leading our future activities!
By Stacey Cordery, Children & Families Project Co-Ordinator