Need for Frenford Foodbank won't end when pandemic does, say volunteers
- Credit: Irfan Shah
"I never envisaged the foodbank would still be running in January" - the words of Irfan Shah capture the mood of all those who volunteer with Frenford Foodbank.
It was set up in direct response to coronavirus, but it’s clear the need for it won’t end when the pandemic does.
No doubt Covid-19 has shone a brighter spotlight on poverty in the borough. But the Recorder’s interview with co-founders Irfan and Genevieve Carnell emphasises an uncomfortable truth: this degree of deprivation was here before coronavirus, and it’s likely to exist long after.
Irfan and Genevieve were part of the discussions to form the foodbank n March when lockdown first started. The pair, from Frenford Youth Club and Redbridge Mutual Aid respectively, joined forces with the latter’s other founders and Ilford South MP Sam Tarry to create the service.
Three facilities were originally in place, but around 5-6 months in the decision was taken to operate solely out of the Frenford Youth Club site.
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According to Genevieve, around 170 families were receiving parcels during the peak of the pandemic. While this number has decreased somewhat, there is still an alarming amount of need in the borough.
Never was this more apparent than at Christmas. The situation faced by the foodbank is something Genevieve says she'll “never forget”.
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In the final week of term, she sent a speculative email out to schools offering the foodbank’s services if required.
At this point they were serving around 70 families on a regular basis. The send button had barely been pushed before that number jumped by at least 50.
Genevieve recalls receiving “a flood of responses”, with one school alone referring 15 families. Without ample supplies, there is no way they could have coped.
Yet they were able to meet the demand, as they have throughout the pandemic, through a combination of donations and funding.
Paying tribute to “the amazing generosity of the people of Redbridge”, Irfan credits residents for their food and monetary donations, as well as their proactive involvement in getting supplies to those in need.
External funding – from The London Community Foundation and Redbridge Council – has also ensured they can maintain the service, particularly during the festive season.
As Genevieve explains, groups were invited to apply for part of a £100,000 pot released by the council as part of its Covid Winter Grant Allocation (£788,900.75).
Frenford Foodbank was successful in its application; a relief given “the shelves were empty” before that timely boost.
That funding fed families at Christmas. The people of Redbridge made sure Santa came.
The aspiration was to give each child a gift. However, they ran out a few days before Christmas, leaving Genevieve to fear the worst.
Some quick thinking - and a few WhatsApp messages - later, she was awash with offers from people all over the borough that made sure no child went without.
The foodbank was able to make up the shortfall of around 20 families (most with more than one child), and Genevieve wasn’t forced into an unenviable choice.
While both she and Irfan are full of praise for everyone who has stepped up, they are both concerned about the long-term vulnerability unveiled by the virus.
She frankly lays out the situation: “Before coronavirus, Redbridge had the Trussell Trust foodbank and Chapters in Seven Kings. Now there is a new one in Chadwell Heath (and us). The need is doubling.”
Irfan shares Genevieve’s worry: “It seems we have so many people struggling to support themselves and therefore have turned to foodbanks. Job losses, furlough, lack of shifts, asylum seekers, domestic violence survivors, homeless in shelters and hotels, refugees and even foreign students stuck in the UK with no access to funds - the list is endless.”
This stark reality informs a shared commitment to carry on “for as long as it’s needed”. Irfan is clear: “There is no hiding that this pandemic and its after effects will last for years to come.”
For Genevieve, the current landscape is part of a “wider malaise” in society. What’s happening right now can be attributed to coronavirus. But what happens when the pandemic ends but the level of need remains?
Whatever the outcome, Frenford Foodbank will be there for the people of Redbridge.