Catholic charities address food poverty in pandemic

No. 11 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Foodbanks and food relief projects in the Diocese of Westminster are seeing a huge increase in need, according to Anna Gavurin, Caritas Food Collective Project Coordinator for the diocese. She said that many parishes and schools have started new food relief projects since lockdown began. A diocesan Caritas Emergency Food Voucher Scheme offers supermarket vouchers for 72 parishes and schools to distribute to around 1000 households. “It has been especially important whilst problems with the government’s free school meal voucher scheme have left many families struggling for food” said Gavurin. She reported that 39 per cent of the households supported so far have needed vouchers due to low income, partly due to the effects of the furlough scheme leaving many on 80 percent of an already low income.

Another nine per cent have lost their work due to coronavirus, and eight per cent have been unable to work due to the pandemic, with many having to shield or living with a vulnerable person. About eight per cent have no recourse to public funds, and have been left with no support at all during their crisis. “We think we are only seeing the beginning of the need, when the furlough scheme ends and evictions are allowed again we expect to see many more people in need and so will continue strengthening parish projects so they are able to meet this need.”

John Coleby, Director of Caritas Westminster, said: “Many people and families will not have the economic resilience following the fallout from Covid-19.” He said many people cannot afford food because of delays in Universal Credit following redundancy. He volunteers at his local foodbank hosted in a Catholic parish. “We are seeing a 300 per cent increase in take up and I think demand on food banks and food redistribution services has exploded.”

Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society currently supports 725 families via a range of therapeutic services. “However a child or family cannot have good mental health or emotional well-being if they are hungry,” said Director Bernadette Fisher. Each year they provide over 100 families with Tesco or Asda vouchers, but the need has increased since the pandemic.

She said that families who are struggling particularly as a result of Covid are those with self-employed parents unable to apply for government support, or those who are on income support and struggling due delay in school meal vouchers. She is worried about summer holiday hunger: “We have applied to a variety of trusts to seek further funding so we can extend our scheme.”

Jesuit Refugee Service UK said that Government public health measures in response to Covid-19 “have had a catastrophic effect on many refugees and asylum seekers who face a real hunger emergency”. Before lockdown, refugee clients received hot meals provided by JRS UK at its weekly drop-in Day Centre in East London. During lockdown, drop-in centres were forced to close. Rhiannon Prideaux, JRS UK Emergency Response Coordinator, said: “JRS has responded to this need by coordinating food deliveries across London using a vast network of dedicated volunteers, to whom we are extremely grateful.” She thanked donors for food and money to the emergency hardship fund “helping us feed hundreds of refugees who suffer from hunger and are often in poor health”.

This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.