Source: Caritas Westminster
As lockdown measures came into place across the country at the end of March, there was a lot of confusion. What was meant by essential workers? Could voluntary projects continue? Would there be enough volunteers? At the same time, many people were acutely aware of the needs there would be, as people unable to go out to work would struggle to afford life's essentials. Others who could afford food were told not to leave their homes for health reasons.
We can now look back and see how, in this environment of uncertainty, communities galvanised. Mutual aid groups were established to help and support neighbours, connecting online through social media groups. Catholics in the Diocese of Westminster also responded with generosity, re-organising themselves, building on existing projects and finding new avenues to fulfil the greater need.
By 8th April, three parishes had set up brand new 'pop-up food stalls', initially distributing food from the Felix Project, which works with Caritas Westminster. These stalls generally receive and hand out food donations on the same day, and can therefore supply more fresh food than a typical foodbank. They have been running once a week, every week, in Tottenham, Cockfosters and Palmers Green for four months, handing out nearly ten thousand food parcels.
The three parishes have different geographic locations, populations and apparent need. Nonetheless, each grew and developed across the months of lockdown, listening to the requirements of those who attended and developing their services accordingly.
The Tottenham food stall closed at the end of July having helped an average of 75 people and their families each week. Support is continuing in the form of food vouchers and non-perishable food for those in most need.
The Cockfosters food stall continued until the end of August. Each week it had been supporting 15 people and their families.
In Palmers Green the food stall looks set to continue. They also deliver food to people's homes and host a drop-in lunch. This stall has seen consistently high numbers and supports around 300 individuals each week.
As we see unemployment rise, the need for emergency food supplies will continue. These parishes provide a place where families can receive fresh food with no questions asked. Many people accessing the services do not have English as a mother tongue, which makes it difficult for them to access other services. It is a testament to the trusted role of parishes in the community that people were able to receive help they needed.
The Parish Priest at Tottenham, Fr David Lucuy, spoke of the situations of people who had been coming to the food stall: "A number of them were single mothers with two to three children to feed and dependent on Universal Credit alone and some without income at all. Another lady was made redundant and was heavily pregnant. The council also directed one young adult who was shielding in his flat because he has a severe illness, to our parish to get essential food since he had no one to turn too. I have had some conversations with the people who benefitted and at times it was difficult to hear the tragic situations they were in."
Fr David also spoke of the eagerness of parishioners who volunteered: "The whole experience has been rewarding. Many of the parishioners expressed the gratitude for having the opportunity to help. Many of them said that they felt helpless before, but once we announce the appeal for food they felt joy at the opportunity to do something small or big."
Gerry Bell, the co-ordinator of the Palmers Green food stall spoke of the joy of seeing lives transformed: "We had an uplifting moment when a homeless lady in her early twenties returned after a few weeks away. She has got a job as a health care assistant and found a place to live. She appreciated the support given to her."
Rosa Lewis, Caritas Development Worker for North London, said: "It has been inspiring to see how parishes responded to need in a time of great uncertainty and truly made the pop-up food stalls flourish, enabling thousands of people to access extra food for free."
During lockdown, parish buildings stood lonely and silent, without the community gathering for worship. But once a week these parishes became a hive of activity, receiving deliveries, assembling stalls and welcoming people to come and take bags and crates of food home. In this way churches have continued fulfilling their mission, bringing Christ to the community.
Caritas Westminster and the three parishes would like to thank the Felix Project, FareShare and local councils, as well as various local supermarkets for providing food. In particular, Morrisons in Enfield who provided a treat at Easter time: a chocolate egg or two in each food bag!
To donate to the work of Caritas Westminster, see: https://rcdow.org.uk/donate/caritas-westminster/
If your parish or school needs support to help those in your community, please contact [email protected]
Caritas Westminster www.caritaswestminster.org.uk
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