Over the last few months, I’ve felt privileged to play a small part in spreading the word about one of the biggest crises we face today: food poverty.
Around five million people across the country are struggling to put food on the table. Five million. And that number will no doubt rise as the long-term effects of Covid-19 begin to take hold. It’s a national disgrace that food poverty exists at all in such a wealthy country. It’s equally disgraceful that our government last week refused to extend the free school meals scheme, which provides a lifeline worth £15-a-week for over a million children. The government only sustained the scheme through the summer in the first place because Manchester United striker and all-round national hero, Marcus Rashford, forced them into an embarrassing U-turn earlier this year.
Thanks to Marcus Rashford and his fellow campaigners, child food poverty is firmly in the spotlight, where it should be, and it shows no sign of budging. A few days ago, Marcus and his mum Melanie visited FareShare Greater Manchester, part of the national FareShare network which has been distributing surplus food to those in need during the pandemic.
Tackling food poverty in Greater Manchester
This year I’ve had the pleasure of working with FareShare Greater Manchester on content and communications to help them tell their amazing story.
When Greater Manchester went into full lockdown in March, the number of people depending on FareShare food almost doubled overnight to around 50,000. The unprecedented demand put the charity under huge pressure, not least because many of their most experienced long-term volunteers had to shield at home. Capacity was stretched to the limit, and it was far from certain that they would be able to continue operating.
But the people of Greater Manchester stepped up when they were needed most. An army of volunteers from all walks of life – employed, jobless, furloughed and marooned students among them – collectively gave nearly 10,000 hours of their time to help. Many others donated money, while food and logistics companies pulled together to ramp up food supplies. Against the odds, FareShare GM succeeded in redistributing nearly one thousand tonnes of food in just four months – equivalent to 2.3 million meals.
I had the pleasure of helping to pull this amazing story together into an easy-to-read report, which you can download here.
“When we stumble, there will always be a community to pick us back up”
The purpose of Marcus Rashford’s visit to FareShare GM on 22 October was to take a tour of a new warehouse, a key part of FareShare GM’s plan to reach their target of delivering 7 million meals a year. In a fitting tribute, the building will be named Melanie Maynard House, after Marcus’ mum.
“When we stumble, there will always be a community to wrap their arms around us and pick us back up. For many of us, that is FareShare or the local food bank. Food banks who are staffed with selfless volunteers, dedicating their lives to protecting those most vulnerable – those who, in many cases, have fallen into unforeseen circumstances due to illness, personal loss and unemployment. It should be noted that a lot of these volunteers have themselves suffered unemployment as a result of the pandemic, yet they still strive to help others less fortunate. That to me is the greatest example of what we can do, and the difference we can make, when we just work together.”Marcus Rashford
The government may be failing in its most basic duty to care for its people, but the #EndChildFoodPoverty movement Marcus Rashford has started has now taken on a life of its own. At the time of writing, hundreds of businesses, their customers and local councils across the country are stepping up to cover the free school meals deficit themselves. They shouldn’t have to. It’s a disgrace that it’s come to this. But maybe, for now at least, it’s the good news story we really need in these troubling times.
FareShare Greater Manchester needs funds to help them refurbish Melanie Maynard House so they can gear up for the difficult times ahead. Please donate if you can.
All photos courtesy of FareShare UK and FareShare Greater Manchester