Caroline Kenyon: Lockdown and the Lincoln food banks

I have been speaking to Simon Hoare, CEO of ACTS, who told me: “One lady who usually donates food to Lincoln Food Bank in her weekly shop, never ever thought she would be in a situation where she would need help herself. A lot of people who have never had to use a food banks before, are having to do so.”

Some may know I am in London for the duration of the lockdown, caring for my 90 year old mother. I am missing Lincoln badly – what a lovely surprise it was on VE Day to see the Red Arrows overhead. A wonderful reminder of home.

It was very good to catch up with with the indefatigable Simon Hoare on the phone yesterday. Some may know Simon and his briliant team at the Alive Church which runs Lincoln Food Bank and countless projects to support those with least in our community, always in such a constructive way.

Lockdown poses so many problems for people, but especially for those on very low incomes who have relied on food banks in the past, or who suddenly find themselves out of work as a result of business closures.

Demand is running high. In April, Lincoln Food Bank gave away 10 tonnes of food, signifcantly more than normal, and that was from their own food stocks.

However, they have seized the nettle.

“People get referred by agencies to food banks by a paper referral form,” explains Simon. “Those agencies’ doors are shut, so where do they go? Key workers can’t give you a paper form when everyone is working from home.”

They realised they needed to create an online system which would be paperless and contactless. “We did that in the first week of lockdown – I learned a lot about coding! I did have a tremendous amount of help from some very clever people.”

Food collection at the Lincoln Mosque

Another good outcome has been the collaboration with other food banks – Community Larder and Lincoln Food Bank decided to work in partnership and operate more closely, as well as Lincoln Central Mosque’s new food bank which is also using the online referral system.

“The city council has been brilliant too,” says Simon, “they opened up the phone lines so if people are in need, they can ring and the council will fill out their online referral for them.”

Another challenge was how to get the food to people. “In the old way, they would come to the Food Bank to pick it up. That’s fine if you’re allowed out of the house but there are many who are self-isolating or shielding and also have no money. If you’ve no money, can’t get out of the house and have no one who can deliver. So we’ve started a delivery service and in the first 25 days, 40% of food parcels had to be delivered.”

Luckily, last year Lincs Van Hire had very kindly donated a van on a long lease. “The city council has also seconded vans in the afternoons and Dial A Ride has been helping too.

“What’s been amazing is the number of individuals and businesses who have said to us, what can we do?”

Simon describes how they have been able to help one family.

“Through befriending phonecalls once a week, we learned their income had severely dropped and that they were struggling. The parents were very worried about how they were going to feed their children. We’ve been able to help with food when otherwise they would have gone hungry. One of their sons is at a critical stage with his studies and had no laptop. With a few calls, we got him a donated laptop. Now he can study at home.”

If you would like to support this great work, every little bit is hugely appreciated. You can donate online here.

Caroline Kenyon is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln

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