One week into the first national lockdown we got our first call from a lady who had run out of food. Mary sounded as though she was in shock.
‘We’ve never been in this situation before’ she said quietly, ‘My husband usually gets paid weekly, but he’s been told not to come into work, so his wages have stopped, and we don’t know if his work will furlough him. I’ve been off sick for a while because I’ve been getting treatment for cancer, this is all so sudden, we just aren’t prepared for this at all’.
And so began the first of a steady stream of calls and Facebook requests from people in BS13 to access support from our emergency food response. Ordinary families, floored by the sudden impact of lockdown and the immediate restrictions placed on their ability to earn a living, pay their bills and shop for essential food. Even before the pandemic, we knew that many people in the UK live pay-check to pay-check. To struggle on low-pay and inadequate benefits or to be self-employed with irregular income means personal disaster if finances are disrupted. Media stories about panic buying meant nothing to households who barely had the resources to afford a weekly shop let alone to buy goods in bulk. At one of our busiest times in the peak of the second wave, BS13 had the highest Covid-19 infection rate in Bristol, but isolating without pay wasn’t an option for most. As we started to see people with underlying health conditions become seriously ill it came as no surprise as health inequalities have always existed here, the problems have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
For some, the coming months will bring hope of a new freedom from lockdown, whilst others will feel the aftershock of the pandemic for years to come. Public Health figures show us that 1 in 7 households in BS13 currently report severe food insecurity and by ward, BS13 also has the highest levels of food poverty in Bristol. Foodbanks are important, but our aim is to offer access to high quality, delicious food that’s been freshly prepared and gives people choice about what they consume. Over the pandemic, we’ve sent out 30,000 meals as part of our food response, yet the food crisis in BS13 pre-dates the pandemic and was largely being overlooked. Food poverty needs to be tackled at a systemic level. Challenging low wages, inadequate benefits, expensive utilities. We need to offer support street by street, family by family – our aim is to support people out of food poverty by looking at the root causes, not just imminent hunger.
As we move into the spring, Heart of BS13’s Real Meal Store invites the city of Bristol to join us in our efforts to tackle food insecurity, financial inequality and the stigma of poverty by supporting our work. Every order you make from our Pay it Forward range means that you’ll be supporting a household of 4 people to have delicious, high-quality food choices plus the additional professional support to tackle the challenges they face.
Finally, we want to say THANK YOU to our amazing chefs, volunteers and donors who made Heart of BS13’s food response possible. Your hard work, support and belief in our mission to ensure that everyone in BS13 who needed it had access to delicious, home cooked food, meant that we could take the pressure off of many struggling households during the pandemic.
We look forward to working with you as we embark on the next stage of our journey.