How Has Covid-19 Impacted Us?

Record Demand for our Foodbanks

In January 2020, Bow Foodbank would see around 100 clients a week on a fortnightly cycle, so there were approximately 200-220 adults regularly attending. Clients were registered, and were entitled to a set number of visits fortnightly. Throughout the year demand has increased almost every week. Bethnal Green opened in early 2020 and has also seen more and more clients needing help. By the end of October, our combined client base was approaching 800 adults and 1500 children.

Choice & Dignity

Prior to Covid19, Bow Foodbank was able to keep pace with demand and growing client numbers from generous food donations from the public and a weekly supermarket delivery (which we purchased) to stock our ‘free shop’ model. Bethnal Green signed up to Bankuet, and with some financial support was able to start off a similar ‘personal shopper’ service, as used at Bow, allowing clients a reasonably wide choice of food, hygiene items, some fresh fruit & veg and ‘extras’ such as sanitary towels. Both foodbank teams felt this offered clients choice and dignity, as similar as possible to a shopping experience, and deliberately offered consistent products so that clients could plan their other food and household purchases.

Lockdown 1 & 2

The first lockdown in March 2020 created enormous and sudden difficulties: we couldn’t get our supermarket delivery which was the backbone of our service and we couldn’t buy in bulk. For a short time, we handed out supermarket vouchers instead. This was problematic for a number of anti-social behaviour reasons, and we worked hard to establish better supplies of bulk product, assembled a massive volunteer force and started pre-packing bags of food. From the start of lockdown, we reduced the face-to-face contact for clients and volunteers and implemented social distancing. Pre-packed bags therefore meant less personal interaction, less general chat with clients and the end of our hot drinks and snacks ‘hospitality’. We could no longer offer the 1-2-1 legal and welfare advice service either. All of this was a sore loss, reducing our service unfortunately to a transaction, and losing some of the character of the foodbank session. However the volunteers have worked miracles to bring friendliness, warmth, and respect to clients, especially whilst queuing outside in long lines.

For the 2nd lockdown, not much needed to change in our operation. By this point we had arranged bulk deliveries using Morrison’s special scheme for foodbanks, which gave us a significant cost reduction on normal retail prices. We also developed relationships with a local wholesaler and fresh fruit and veg supplier, to top up the range on offer to clients. This remains a much smaller selection than our original ‘free shop’ model, and whilst we were able to reintroduce some ‘choice’ elements, the majority of the bag contents remains pre-packed. Our amazing team of volunteers have continued to lead the sessions, prepare all the food from ordering, delivering, stocktaking, bag packing and client engagement. And of course, the incredible support that is now going into fundraising and publicity to secure our future in 2021.

Home deliveries

From May to August 2020, we were able to organise a home delivery service using volunteers to take pre-packed bags to clients who were self-isolating. This service closed when the ‘shielding’ requirement officially ended and many volunteers returned to work or had less time available. We are still regularly asked for home deliveries from clients who are self-isolating, have chronic health conditions or disabilities. Unfortunately we do not have the resources to make home deliveries, but we do allow clients to send someone to collect on their behalf from either of our sessions. If you don’t have someone to send, the local Mutual Aid groups in your street/ ward may be able to find a volunteer for you. Check Facebook or this Google Doc to find your local Mutual Aid group

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