I managed to speak with Nathanya Laurent, Development Manager at Leeds South & East Foodbank, to find out more about the current situation, how people can help the foodbank and receive help from it.
Changes to the current referral system and how to get help
“Because of the current climate, we’re having to re-look at the ways we’re delivering the voucher system” Nathanya explained.
At the moment, a client goes to a referral partner – community hubs, school doctors, children’s centres, homeless charities, and women’s shelters are examples. The partner gives a voucher and the client comes to foodbank and exchanges the voucher for a food parcel. Each parcel contains three days’ worth of emergency food, around nine meals.
The Coronavirus outbreak has suspended the additional signposting service, which helps clients escape a “cycle of poverty” through partners such as advisors from the Citizens Advice Bureau or debt management companies.
Clients now need to ring local welfare support on 0113 376 0330.
They will then be referred to a foodbank, which delivers parcels to the people on the list. This is for self-isolating people who can afford food and are linked up with a volunteer.
How to help and donate
“Ideally, it would be great to donate funds to our fundraiser. If someone wants to donate food, they can go to centres.”
Local supermarkets including Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have collection points for foodbanks.
The items they’re lacking in particular are:
- Dilute juice
- UHT milk
- Tinned fish
- Tinned potatoes
- Tinned meat
- Rice pudding
- Toilet roll
Although they’ve had to close some foodbanks, others remain open, including at St Cross Church in Middleton, every Tuesday and Friday from 10am to 12pm. This is the full list of open foodbanks in Leeds.
Context of rising demands, falling donations and staffing challenges
In the year to March 2019, Leeds South & East Foodbank fed 12,500 people. That figure rose to 14,148 people in Leeds, including 5,970 children for the year to March 2020. So the demand was rising before the Coronavirus outbreak struck.
Demands have doubled or tripled in the last month, she estimated.
“We were seeing a surge in demand for our foodbank anyway. Since then, the demand has gone through the roof.
“We’ve seen a 2.5-tonne dip in our donations since the virus hit, which is the equivalent of £4,000.
“Our traditional fundraising endeavours have been put on hold while we support clients through the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are developing partnerships with supermarkets who are encouraging their customers to donate more. Some of their stock is coming our way.
“Although that is a very positive step, there’s still that high demand that we’re trying to meet.
“The client groups we support are people that are experiencing extreme food insecurity and financial hardship. That’s only going to get worse and we’re ready to help them.”
They also need more funds to continue providing their service and to meet extra costs like making van deliveries to the vulnerable.
The Leeds South & East Foodbank only has three part-time members of staff: Nathanya Laurent, the operations manager, both of whom are self-isolating, and the on-site warehouse manager.
“I’d say 90% of our volunteers are over 70 years old or have pre-existing health conditions, so we’ve had to think creatively about volunteers.”
The impact of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, the Leeds Fans Foodbank project and Voluntary Action Leeds
“The relationship was very positive before the crisis hit. We would have a stand outside the ground every home game, where fans would donate food and funds.
“When the matches were postponed, the supporters’ trust helped us to rethink how we engage. The fundraiser had been bubbling in place for quite a while.
“It’s amazing – what a jump based on that 24-hour football marathon. We couldn’t do it without them.
“This relationship is very positive and we’re very thankful to the supporters’ trust and their fans, before this crisis hit and even more afterwards.
“We couldn’t do it without them. They want to help and we really value that support.”
“It means we can continue to run a service. Many of our volunteers have stepped down, so to have people come through the doors has been really heart-warming.”
If you’re unable to leave the house due to the COVID-19 Virus pandemic and you’re worried because you don’t have family or friends who can help, please contact Leeds City Council on 0113 378 1877.
Anyone who feels they are able, can volunteer for a range of roles dependant on availability and preference, by completing this online form. Once signed-up volunteers will receive training be matched with opportunities locally to help.