The new Covid-19 variant and impossible choices for food aid providers
Dee Woods, Co-Founder of the Granville Community Kitchen, on the reality of providing food aid in the midst of surging Covid-19 cases
Granville Community Kitchen has seen an exponential increase in need due to rapidly rising food insecurity since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effects on people’s lives through business and job losses, the closure of schools, delays and ineligibility for social welfare benefits and the breakdown of many social support services meant a huge rise in need for our services.
At the beginning of national restrictions, ours was the only organisation in the south of Brent providing food aid. People came from as far as Hounslow near Heathrow as well as other surrounding boroughs - Camden, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea. Our policy has always been “No Borders No Questions” and it has steadfastly remained so. The courage to show up in a time of need is enough without having to prove you are deserving of support. Any questions relate to dietary needs and family size.
We were able to adapt quickly to required safety measures and offered a combined service of collection and deliveries of food parcels to minimise risk. The local community supported us with donations of food and money, their time and vehicles. As more public health guidance became available, we ran risk assessments, adjusting how we mitigated risks to ourselves and the community we were serving. We took all the necessary precautions. We had contingency plans in place in case of infection amongst our volunteer team or exposure to someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.
The need for our help continued relentlessly throughout 2020. By December, our team was drained and exhausted knowing that some respite was needed before yet further anticipated increases in need at the start of 2021.
During the Christmas holidays we were suddenly plunged into a fast unfolding scene straight out of a disaster movie. My Co-Coordinator Leslie Barson, became ill and, having tested negative a few days earlier, tested positive for the virus. We contacted all the volunteers and any other people or beneficiaries who had been in contact with Leslie. We asked anyone who had symptoms to get tested and others to self-isolate. As volunteers came back to us either saying they had fallen ill or had tested positive, we realised that we had no choice but to close this past week and the likelihood of being able to fully open this coming week hangs in the balance.
Our community has been amazing in packing parcels and supporting some of our most vulnerable elders and families while we couldn’t operate. Other local organisations have stepped in to support our work.
But we normally support 250 households each week with a reach of almost 1000 people. How many hundreds of people went hungry this past Christmas week unable to access food anywhere else?! The thought keeps me awake at night. Our humanity, our compassion has been circumvented by the reality of this highly infectious variant spreading like a wildfire and knocking us out.
Now imagine if a similar scenario was to happen up and down the country. Imagine if innumerable small independent food aid providers were also stopped in their tracks by this virus. Self-isolating rules do not make exceptions for food bank teams nor the people they support.
The UK Government cannot continue to expect food aid charities and volunteers to pick up the pieces left by poverty-inducing policies. Food bank teams have shouldered Covid-19 risks for months but now those risks are becoming too much to bear both practically and morally. Will our Government act on its responsibilities or are we about to watch an unfathomable disaster unfold?!