Charities strive to provide dignity as well as food as the cost of living soars

In a small, unpretentious corner shop on a main road through north Manchester, three tonnes of fruit and vegetable donations had just arrived during the December drizzle.

Over 24 hours, half a dozen busy volunteers will pack it up and deliver it back by truck to struggling households across the city, accompanied by turkey, stuffing, and chocolate yule logs. la.

human MCR is part of the UK’s army of food charities supporting people over Christmas, as the cost of living crisis hits hard across the country. But there is no queue; co-founder Lewey Hellewell, who just five years ago was dependent on food packages, has begun to “do it differently”.

“We deliver in unbranded vans with supermarket crates, so for your neighbors or your kids it’s just a regular supermarket delivery operation,” he said. “It speaks to the dignity we want to offer to everyone.”

Dignity is Hellewell’s typical word. In 2017, he was fired from his job as a restaurant manager and within two months that money was exhausted.

“Suddenly things started to hit me,” he said, recalling how at first he felt “embarrassed” to ask for help.

He added: “Eventually things got so bad that I had no choice but to resort to a couple of food banks.

“There were a lot of people queuing outside in that terrible Mancunian weather, on really busy streets, so you feel like everyone driving by knows why you are there and if they want to. , they can judge you.”

He also noticed people can only get three referrals per year for support, “which blows my mind”. There is very little choice in what he eats. “I kept looking for food, so every night when I come home I have a half-eaten meal and every sip is a reminder that I am living in poverty.”

Two years later, after getting back on his feet, Hellewell founded Humans MCR with his friend Rachel Parkinson.

People can get referrals every two weeks, food is delivered to their door, and stickers on the fridge along the charity’s walls show there’s plenty to choose from – halal and kosher meats, produce milk substitute.

Center Director Sunita Parsons-Solomon
Center director Sunita Parsons-Solomon: ‘Sitting here, taking calls from everyone, really profound’ © Jon Super/FT

“I think giving people choices and agents makes them feel less like a number,” said Sunita Parsons-Solomon, new center manager said while answering the phone. “I don’t think people realize the scale of the need out there. Sitting here, taking calls from everyone, is really profound.

The charity’s food-banking arm, however, is only a “crisis” phase in the process of assisting struggling households. “The basic thing we’re trying to do is get people out of poverty and not denigrate it,” Hellewell said.

Human MCR directs people to advice on all manner of financial struggles, from the cost of buying school uniforms to battling rent debt. It has also set up an online grocery store, selling unsold supermarket grocery items – often expired but still new – at “big discounts”.

A weekly shop for a family of four, including meat and other proteins, costs £12.5, with free fruit and veg. There are currently 280 families on the waiting list.

In the new year, Hellewell will launch a home cooking course that uses pre-packaged food items, teaching “people to use them in creative ways without the need for a cupboard full of herbs.” “.

Demand is eye-catching. Hellewell said Humans MCR was founded just a few months before the pandemic hit and Covid “slapped us in the face”. The charity delivered 150,000 food packages during the first blockade.

Kimberley Stout packing potatoes for Humans MCR Christmas
Kimberley Stout Packs Potatoes for Humans MCR Christmas Delivery © Jon Super/FT

2022 has brought soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation stands at 10.7 percent in November and the Office for Budget Responsibility, the financial watchdog, has predicted that UK households will see 7.1 percent decrease in living standards in the next two years.

“We are currently looking at a shift in demand that has almost brought us back to Covid, where we deliver to full-time workers who are not used to charity services,” said Hellewell.

“About 20% of the people we see are now working full-time, some working multiple jobs and still struggling to feed their families and turn on the heaters.”

He added that “get my goat”. “You can have two jobs and still have too many months to spend all the money.”

Delivery drivers say “the kids behind their parents are all wrapped in winter coats – you can see their breaths as they play in the kitchen”, as families grapple with chemicals. single heating.

“I wish I could support people a little bit to keep them warm, but I hope that the food assistance we can provide will free up some money for them to do that,” he said.

Others simply cannot work. In Stockport, just south of Manchester, the charity is particularly concerned for a couple in their 60s, one of whom has a long-term disability.

“You can feel the cold when the door is open,” says Hellewell. “Both have worked their whole lives to the point where they can no longer continue — and now they feel the system is working against them.

“My heart breaks for them.”

In the new year, Hellewell plans to sit down with the couple to help with their finances in order to come up with a more permanent solution.

In the meantime, Humans MCR will deliver festive parcels to more than 400 households on Christmas Eve. They include not only elements of a Christmas dinner, Hellewell said, but also crackers, Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and presents for the kids, with a blank gift card for parents to fill out “so that’s it.” it doesn’t come from charity.”

For Parsons-Solomon, her first month as center manager highlights not only the need in this deprived part of Manchester, but also kindness.

She talks about food poverty, and adds that many of the charity’s most enthusiastic donors remember what that feels like.

“They’ll say ‘I know exactly what it’s like – I used to get charity money from a food bank’. And I found that really touching.”

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