Impact of Covid-19 on iCare Birmingham Food Hub
We are open to those in need of food support referral. In normal times we are able to offer each attendee a choice of ten staple goods once a month, for up to 30 visitors. Thanks to the generosity of our donors we have been able to offer additional goods to families with children and offer supplementary items from surplus stock.
The team of volunteers have worked hard to create an atmosphere of welcome and hospitality in our iCare food hub on the second Thursday afternoons of a month, offering food, drink and an opportunity to socialise for those who come to us.
Sadly this is not possible during the present pandemic we have now had to move to a model that preserves social distance and safeguards users and volunteers. However, we hope to be able to preserve our philosophy, as we find new ways of working in the changed situation.
At a time when many people are confined to their homes we want to work with local community groups to get supplies of food and toiletries to those who are struggling not just with isolation but also with poverty.
Unfortunately, at the moment like all food banks our lines of supply are fragile and we have for the moment reached our capacity and are struggling to respond to new requests.
The means by which we get our food from the usual to the abnormal. Millions of people will be experiencing a drop in income because of illness, new childcare requirements, reduced working hours or losing their jobs. It’s too early to fully understand the impact of the crisis on household income and employment, but food banks are already reporting a surge in demand. Last week, a food bank in Enfield saw their number of visitors increase by 80%, and yesterday we heard that in the past nine days nearly 477,000 new applications for universal credit have been registered.
Many people are also much more limited in how they obtain food. Households and individuals who are self-isolating are not allowed to go out to purchase food (although we don’t know how many currently fall into this category). People who are at elevated risk of the virus (the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions) who have been asked to follow stringent social distancing may also opt to stay at home entirely due to the risks they face. There is a total of 17.6 million people in this group – have a look at our breakdown here (information from the Food Foundation)
As of March 20th, all restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars have closed. While many of these are shifting to take out or home delivery, it’s important to remember that before the crisis, 30% of our food and drink expenditure took place out of the home, and now this demand has shifted in large part to grocery shopping (mostly from supermarkets).
Food availability has also been affected among the pre-existing emergency food provision services – these might be free meals provided as part of community services, community kitchens, cafes (often supplied by FareShare) and food parcels provided by food banks. Some of these services have had to close (due to infection risks), others are facing reductions in their volunteer base, and many are reporting a drop in food donations which is having a material effect on their capacity to operate. Those who supply from supermarkets are no longer able to do so because of volume rationing.
Finally, food availability has been affected by a surge in purchasing (so-called panic buying) resulting from fear that supplies will run out. This has left supermarkets with empty shelves and long queues, and alarming images like these only fuel consternation. This problem seems to be hitting key workers hardest – they have small windows in which they can shop, and these often fall at the end of the day when much of the produce has already been snapped up.