Feeding a community: Haringey food bank goes above and beyond for families in need 

Mistakes with her benefits payments have left Susan, 46, struggling financially and threatened with eviction. Since the lockdown began, the Haringey resident has been finding it hard to make what money she is receiving stretch. She’s also supporting her 20-year-old son whose work as a builder has dried up. On top of this, Susan suffers from mental health problems and is in recovery following an emergency operation at the end of 2019. “The lockdown hasn’t been so bad,” she says. “But trying to get out and buy food is difficult.” 

This is just one of the many stories that the Muswell Hill Food Bank has been hearing, and responding to, every day. The community run foodbank, part of The Trussell Trust, usually serves about 60 families per week, most of whom are referred by agencies, charities and community bodies. Now, during the Covid-19 crisis, demand has doubled, if not tripled. And it keeps on rising.

When the food bank reached out to Haringey Giving for urgent support, we turned to our Haringey Heroes. Thanks to the incredibly generosity of our donors and fundraisers, we were able to give a £5,000 grant so that an additional 200 local vulnerable families will now receive enough food and essential supplies to tide them over for a whole month. 

“People are overwhelmed by the generosity,” food bank manager Victor Mason says of the support. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, we're just a wing of the government,’ but when I say, "No, all of this has been donated by people – this is people's generosity,’ that blows them away.” 

We catch up with Victor Mason to find out how the food bank is coping and adapting during the pandemic

Hi Victor! Do people in need find out about the Muswell Hill Food Bank

The Trussell Trust has a food banks voucher system and then we work on a referral basis – you can't just come in off the streets and get food. When we started the food bank, we had to let GP, schools and social services know about us, so we made contact and gave them these red vouchers. We've got over 150 voucher holders now. There’s a broad spectrum of people

Muswell Hill Food Bank volunteer holding back of food and wearing a face mask

Has this changed at all during the crisis? 

It really has diversified a lot. Normally we get lots of referrals from the job centre or our usual social services groups, but now it’s mostly schools where parents have gone to the school asking, "Can you help us?" We're also getting a lot of phone calls from people that have lost their jobs and are really struggling while they’re waiting for the Universal Credit to start. And from mums and dads who’ve now got their kids home all the time, when they would usually have school meals, and they can't afford to feed them.  

Who runs the food bank? 

I'm the manager, so I'm the only paid person, and then it's all volunteers. I'm sure every food bank manager says this, but I've definitely got the best group of volunteers. They are absolutely amazing. We have people from every conceivable background, working together and giving so much time and energy. During the pandemic, with the increase in demand, I haven't had to worry at all about finding volunteers to help. Any problem that arises, there was someone stepping forward with a plan. I'm just the facilitator of these very talented, gifted and generous people.

Volunteer packing bags of food ready for delivery

What’s been your biggest challenge during the Covid-19 crisis?

Until the end of March, most of our donations came from supermarket collections, but as soon as this started, we realised we weren't going to be able to do that with a social distancing. So immediately we thought we’re going to need more monetary donations because we're going to have to buy the stock in. That's when Steven was looking around for different grants and the Haringey Giving one came up. It was quite a simple process, so he applied for it and then the money came almost immediately. I was really worried because I knew straight away that it was going to cost us a lot more money to keep the food bank up and running, so for the process to be so swift, it was really helpful.

Where has the grant money from Haringey Giving been spent?

The money has gone straight into buying the goods that we need to run a food bank. It’s absolutely amazing. We’ve been bulk ordering from wholesalers. Normally, food banks can’t sign up to them, but because of the crisis, they're allowing us to sign up. We're buying literally buying hundreds of pounds worth of stuff. The poor delivery drivers!

Bulk delivery of urgent supplies for the Food Bank

Apart from supply chain, how has the food bank been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis?

Obviously, people can't access the offices now, so Steven set up an e-voucher system so people can request a delivery now on that. I think we will keep, even after the crisis, and somehow have that option available for the clients because sometimes it’s a bit tricky to get here by bus, depending on where you live in Haringey or Barnet. Also, the numbers of requests are up. We were open yesterday and normally we'd have 10 or 11 households, but we had 22 come yesterday. And then today, we wouldn't be open, but we're doing 11 deliveries as well. So that's in total over 30. The increase is really great.

The other thing is normally people could come in, sit down, have a cup of coffee, have homemade cake, and we would run through the shopping list with them. Now they have to stand in the car park and wait, and then we give them pre-packed shopping parcels. So that's the negative side of it – the social contact which people really appreciate has depleted a lot. A chat with a friendly face is actually something that they value just as much as the food normally, and we can't do that now. We really miss that. It feels a bit more mechanical now. But I'm sure it won't be long before we can get back to normal.

A vulnerable person receiving a food delivery while observing social distancing

How has the reaction from people receiving food boxes been?

But they're so, so grateful. Like one mum, her child has dietary problems and because people have donated it, we delivered the load of gluten free pasta, the specialty flour. She was just overwhelmed.  There are so many stories like that where people are overwhelmed with generosity. It's amazing isn't it? The way that we pull together. It's like we need these little crises to really realise our kindness and love and generosity and bring us together. It's quite wonderful.

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