Prosperous Surrey is a label that we are living with. While it is true in some areas, other areas tell a different story – we might see millionaire mansions are just down the road from homes of people struggling with food poverty.
What is food poverty?
Food poverty is the lack of access to an adequate and nutritious diet, and uncertainty about the day-to-day provision of meals. There are many reasons that families are struggling with food poverty. Food is in the flexible section of budgets, but a lot of a family’s outgoings are fixed, bills for example. However, food is an area where corners can be cut to stretch money further. The pandemic, as it has affected so many areas of our lives, has also affected food poverty, causing the levels to rise from 8% of the population in 2020 to 9% in 2021.
Generous support from the local community
In February 2020 Trefor Hogg, the Chairman of the Old Dean Community Group in Camberley organized a Zoom meeting to discuss the effects that the pandemic was already beginning to have. Initially, volunteers were organized to shop, collect prescriptions and to be a friendly face to those suddenly isolated. But it wasn’t enough. Soon after, the team also began to collect food donations to support people in the locality suddenly faced with unemployment. The team, made up of the Old Dean Community Group and the local church, St Martin’s, began applying for grants and approaching larger companies for support. In May 2020 the team were able to provide £50 of Co-op vouchers to local families receiving free school meals.
Increasing support in changing times
Unfortunately, as the pandemic continued, so too did the economic pressures on local families, and the lockdowns meant the local church, like other charities, was unable to support people in the ways it previously had. Again, the people of the community stepped up. This time help came from the local allotment society at Barossa allotments. They donated a huge pile of produce which was washed and laid out on tables in the St Martin’s Church car park: the Free Food Stall was born.
Starting from these humble beginnings, gradually more tables were added. More options were introduced too, including toys and donated dry goods. The car park was the ideal environment, offering room for expansion and an open-air venue. The Free Food Stall was able to continue its important work over the winter months, supported by a local greengrocer Emment’s Fruit and Vegetable Emporium, as well as grants, donations and help from the amazing volunteers.
NHS award for the Free Food Stall
The Old Dean Community Group and St Martin’s Church team continued to expand the help offered to the local community. They began directing their visitors to other local charities if necessary, as well as offering a non-judgemental place to come for support and help. As the Free Food Stall continued, the NHS awarded it a grant for food education. This has meant that the team are able to run weekly demonstrations of simple tasty meals that can be made using ingredients available from the Free Food Stall as well as regularly run a Community Breakfast, addressing both food poverty and social isolation.
Cushioning the blows during tough times
What began as a modest response to the global pandemic has spiralled into ongoing multifaceted support for people in the local area. Old Dean has become a community that truly looks out for each other. As we come out of the pandemic our worlds have been irrevocably changed, but we have an opportunity to remake our community into a supportive and genuinely caring place.
Find your local food bank
Social media is an excellent resource for discovering what is available in your local area. There are community hubs and religious centres waiting for your call, whether you’re in need of help or offering to help. You can find your local Trussell Trust foodbank here and connect with local council support here.