The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted how we eat and how we access food. From supermarkets with empty shelves to self-isolation stopping us eating in restaurants, demand and supply has changed.
We hear that many have already had to choose between buying food and paying rent and when it’s so important to get food and money directly to those in need, the charity Turn2Us told us, it can make other work feel like a luxury.
How are our grantholders responding?
Food stocks have begun to recover from the early wave of panic buying, but industry and the charity sector have had to move quickly to adjust to the ways that staying at home have affected demand. Many more people need food deliveries, or someone else to shop for them. This can be particularly difficult for people without established support networks.
Charities and community groups across the country were already working to prevent food poverty, to make food healthier, more environmentally sustainable and to reduce food waste. They’re now bringing these skills to the present crisis.
Here you can learn more about how many have transformed almost overnight from activity groups into emergency food hubs, built new supply chains and recruited new volunteers to ensure they can help everyone in their community. We also share some simple tips for those starting up new food services.
From community hub to soup kitchen.
As community venues have closed and and face-to-face services paused, grantholders have adapted to offer new ways to support people. We’ve seen groups transforming their facilities into soup kitchens and emergency hubs. This is what the Monkstown Boxing Club in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, did. In just five days, it changed from a sports and education venue to a community soup kitchen. They're now preparing and distributing soup and food packages. Local businesses, from coffee shops to chip shops have donated ingredients and containers, enabling the club to increase the number of deliveries they can make.
The Queen's Crescent Community Association in Gospel Oak, London has launched Fight C19, a pop-up facility that includes food deliveries and collections for up to 100 households a week.
Most charities don’t just help those they already know, but work with other local groups to identify new people that may need help at this time. Cambridge Sustainable Food has created a spreadsheet documenting actions around the city, such as cancelled drop-ins or senior lunches, to make sure they know where the hunger gaps are.
Many grantholders have added food delivery to their existing service offer, from dropping off essentials to large scale distribution. Food Train Scotland, a charity supporting older people, makes hundreds of grocery deliveries every week, ensuring that those most in need have access to fresh food. Since the crisis started, they have increased weekly grocery deliveries by 59% with the help of 340 new volunteers, reaching 685 more older people than before.
Many are delivering to the most vulnerable, or those who are not covered by commercial delivery services:
- Gypsies and Travellers Wales delivers food to people on traveller sites, which aren’t served by some supermarkets.
- In south west England, The Nelson Trust has closed its women’s centres, and is now working from a van to deliver food and care packages to sex workers who are still on the street. Staff set up a table in front of the van, to ensure everyone keeps at a safe distance.
- Age UK Lincoln and South Lincolnshire has launched “Food through Adversity: 21 meals for £20”, delivering three meals a day to older people, with a diary of how and when meals should be defrosted.
- Many grantholders start with their existing clients, but also look for the newly vulnerable. Our Community Kitchen, a charity that works to reduce loneliness in Haddington and Lammermuir, is now delivering free hot meals to isolated people. It takes referrals from GPs and social work, as well as its own day centre. Other projects have looked to diabetes services and local organisations for older people to find referrals.
Community organisations are also reaching those in rural areas, where there is risk of isolation. The Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster have come together to organise and deliver food and prescriptions. One of the clubs, Garvagh YFC, has teamed up with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust to organise a food bank, collecting donations and distributing food parcels to families. They also distributed leaflets offering help and support, recognising that social media won't reach everyone.
Rethinking the supply chain.
Charities have started to build new supply chains to identify new sources of food, for example by working with restaurants and cafés which had to close. The week after the lockdown, donations at FareShare more than doubled; they received 360 tonnes more food than their usual supply.
The same has happened at a smaller scale in communities across the country. London Senior Social, a community group supporting older people in Southwark, worked with local cafés and restaurants to source and prepare food that they then drop off at people’s homes. In Llanelli, we’ve funded the social enterprise Community Engagement, Technology, Media & Arts (CETMA) to coordinate the distribution of surplus food from restaurants and shops and train volunteers.
We’ve also seen grantholders building new alliances to respond to local demand. FareShare works nationwide, but has developed targeted emergency response in different parts of the UK. In London, it has partnered with City Harvest and the Felix Project to create the new London Food Alliance which will establish hubs across the city to identify the most vulnerable people in the area and divert food to them.
Our learning about getting food to the people who need it
Finding new volunteers.
- Some groups have pooled and focused resources on food preparation and distribution. The volunteer team for Cardiff Foodbank’s distribution centre in Llanderyn are all over 70 and having to self-isolate, so volunteers from a local church and school have stepped in to keep the centre open.
- Working with the British Red Cross, FareShare launched a new volunteer drive, which received more applications in a week than it normally would in a year. These included specialist volunteers: a call for forklift truck operators received 24 qualified applicants in just two hours.
Food hygiene and safety.
Food safety is always important, but Covid-19 means much stricter hygiene standards for those handling, cooking or delivering food. This is particularly important for anyone moving into food preparation for the first time. The Food Standards Agency sets out legal hygiene requirements. Food hygiene certificates are not required by law, but are a quick, safe way to train.
Other solutions from our grantholders include:
- Being clear about good kitchen practice. Community kitchen and cookery school, Made in Hackney recommends that staff wear chef’s whites or similar work clothing, with food preparation gloves. Cleaning now takes longer: they deep clean kitchen workspaces after every shift, and have introduced a new cleaning rota to make sure enough staff time is available to do this. They put prepared food immediately into sealable, airtight containers.
- Keeping a safe distance. Charities need more space to work, so that staff can stay two metres apart. When Renfrewshire Carers Centre in Scotland closed, it allowed neighbouring charity Food Train to use its office space, so that teams could work and collect food and respect the rules on social distancing.
- Finding innovative solutions to shortages of cleaning supplies. Food Train used Twitter to send a call out for extra hand sanitiser, and sourced it from a local distillery.
Socially distanced delivery and collection.
Groups that run food shops and collection points, or offer deliveries also need systems to keep staff and customers safe.
- Where possible, it’s good to keep food delivery service local, particularly for hot food. Made in Hackney’s cycle couriers each cover a small patch to keep journeys short. Couriers use masks and hand sanitiser, and deep clean bikes and carrying cases after every shift. They’ve also shared a video of safety protocols for couriers.
- Contactless card and phone payments should be encouraged. Where cash is being used, grantholders are taking other measures to reduce the risk of infection. One has split the daily float in two, “one for customers’ change and the other for coins received in, which will go straight into an overnight isopropyl salt bath and rinsed clean for use the following day. Any old paper £20 notes are retained and new polymers also sanitised on receipt.”
- Food collections need to be streamlined. Feeding Britain’s Social Supermarket project in Coventry is now open with a one-way system of access and staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). The registration process has been simplified: beneficiaries provide their names and addresses, and apply hand sanitiser before completing paperwork. They can choose from different pre-packed options, shown on photo cards.
- Delivery is also used as a chance to signpost to other services, or just to raise a smile. Charities have trained delivery couriers to check in with clients, ask how they’re doing and put them in touch with other services. The Warren, a youth centre and recording studio in Hull, has made a mark in the community by singing and dancing while delivering food parcels.
While it’s essential to get food on the table, we all need to make sure it’s the right food. It’s important to consider dietary requirements: allergies, diabetes, religious practices and preferences like plant-based diets.
- Made in Hackney offers vegan food and tries to avoid common allergens such as nuts and sesame. It also has a database of clients and their allergies. On delivery, couriers double-check that recipients have no allergies, to make sure that no mistakes occur.
- We supported the Jewish Community Council of Gateshead to provide frozen kosher meals for Passover.
- Grantholders like Shantona Women’s and Family Centre in Leeds are sharing NHS resources on safely observing Ramadan during the pandemic, particularly for those who have diabetes or other health problems.
Building knowledge and mutual support networks.
As the food industry rebuilds its supply and distribution chains, we need to look at longer-term ways to increase resilience, build networks and share learning in the field of food.
- Larger organisations can help to coordinate work, avoiding duplication and building new networks. Food Power, which works across the UK to support local food poverty alliances, hosts a weekly online forum with Sustainable Food Places, a UK wide network of partnerships working for more sustainable food. The forum is a place for network members to connect and share, hear national updates and feed back their experiences.
- We need to encourage and support information sharing among smaller charities. Made in Hackney is sharing learning through blogs, posters and videos, with detailed advice on how to set up a Covid-19 food programme, from preparation to delivery.
Tips for those starting up food services
We aren’t experts, but here are initial questions to consider, based on early learning from our existing grantholders:
- What kind of food service will you provide? (i.e. vouchers, cash, food parcels or cooked meals). What will work best for you and your customers?
- What facilities will be used for storing or preparing food? Do you have have capacity to deliver hot food, or to cool it safely?
- Will your customers be able to cook for themselves? Do they have the facilities to store and reheat frozen meals? Will they need food delivered hot and ready to eat?
- Can you meet different dietary requirements?
- Be aware of legal requirements and safety standards. Does your organisation, or the venues you use, have public liability insurance? Does your project team have food hygiene certificates?
- What time and resources will you schedule for deep cleaning, more secure storage and physical distancing?
- If you sell food, do you have a contactless payment system, or ways to disinfect cash?
We’re making sense of what we’re seeing and hearing from our grantholders at pace, so there’ll be things we’ve missed, haven’t noticed yet or, perhaps, misinterpreted.
We welcome comments or challenge, so that we can continuously improve and develop, and make this work practical and useful.
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This page was last updated: 24 April 2020