Foodbanks in Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets struggling as coronavirus crisis deepens

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:26 17 March 2020

Empty shelves at a foodbank. Picture: Melanie Rochford

Empty shelves at a foodbank. Picture: Melanie Rochford

Melanie Rochford

The coronavirus pandemic is putting excruciating pressure on vital services such as the NHS to stem the impact of a pandemic which may continue for months.

Pastor Obi Onyeabor. Picture: Steve PostonPastor Obi Onyeabor. Picture: Steve Poston

In response, many people are stockpiling essentials should they need to self-isolate.

The worry is that empty supermarket shelves will impact another vital service: foodbanks. These centres rely on supplies being available to help the most vulnerable.

A 2019 report by London Food Link — “Beyond the Food Bank: London Food Poverty Profile” — revealed that 1.5 million adults in London have low food security, with 400,000 children under the age of 16 struggling to access enough food.

Many of these people live in Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets. They need the lifeline that foodbanks offer.

Empty shelves at a foodbank. Picture: Melanie RochfordEmpty shelves at a foodbank. Picture: Melanie Rochford

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Joel, a project manager for Newham Foodbank, says “the supermarkets are becoming empty”; he worries that they won’t be able to cope with an increase in demand.

He particularly highlights that, should schools close, parents “may struggle to feed” children who would normally get free meals. They’re also set to lose out on donations from Irons Supporting Foodbanks due to football being suspended until April 3 (at the earliest).

Barking Foodbank, which falls under the Trussell Trust alongside Newham, also expect to struggle. Volunteer Pastor Obi Onyeabor says: “We as the foodbank network know we’re struggling. We may end up giving out more food than we get in.”

The situation in Tower Hamlets remains steady, according to Debbie Pemberton from First Love Foundation. The Poplar-based foundation have three shop collection points — in Whitechapel, Canary Wharf and St Katherine Docks — whose donations remain relatively unaffected for now.

However, Debbie is fearful that if the situation continues, they won’t be able to keep providing for the average 100 people per month that currently come through their doors.

Joel shares this fear; he estimates that they help between 70-100 individuals across their seven centres every week. In both instances each person has a different family size, so the reality is greater than 70 or 100.

Pastor Obi concluded by saying that they are “waiting for the government to decide what’s happening”, but that they do expect an increased demand.

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