As England footballer Marcus Rashford this week helped to highlight the issue of schoolchildren going hungry at home, ECT has been working with two fantastic charities in Ealing that have been providing solutions during the lockdown.
When two charities got together in mid-April to set up a project to provide food parcels for hungry families in Southall, they thought they might be helping 20 to 30 families each time.
In fact, they got nearly 60 referrals on day one – and by the second delivery run three days later, the number had risen to 150.
At this point, say Elly Heaton-Virgo and Janpal Basran – CEO of the Young Ealing Foundation and Manager of Southall Community Alliance respectively – “we realised that we needed some additional support”.
Both Elly and Janpal knew of Ealing Community Transport and had met CEO Anna Whitty during previous charity networking events. “I had read that ECT were working with the council on food deliveries, so I got in touch with Anna and said, ‘Can you help?’,” recalls Elly.
“The rest, as they say, is history – ECT have been absolutely fantastic, we could not have done it without them,” Elly continues. “The support they gave from the beginning has been phenomenal – we went from five minibuses to seven and we are now sending out up to 190 parcels twice a week. ECT have made the whole process so much more straightforward – without them we would have needed nearly 40 cars and volunteer drivers.”
Janpal comments: “We soon realised there was going to be a problem for lots of families who were already on low or no incomes, and whose children were going to be at home because they could not go to school.
“In those 190 deliveries, we are now getting food out to between 600 and 800 people each time,” he says, “and the help we have got from ECT is immense. Anna said to us: ‘You guys do what you are good at and leave the logistics to us!’. So we did the referrals and preparation, and ECT broke it all down into geographical areas and provided the minibuses and drivers. For each vehicle we provide two volunteers who go along and drop off the food and collect feedback for the next week’s drop.”
Janpal continues: “It’s a big team effort but there’s no way we could have done this if ECT hadn’t helped us. The staff are just so helpful – I take my hat off to all of our colleagues at ECT from top to bottom.
“I have known Anna for a good few years but I never really appreciated the practical benefit that community transport provides. Transport is so simple that you take it for granted – but when you don’t have it and you need it then you realise how important it is.”
Other charities have also played an important part in the initiative. These include the Felix Project and City Harvest, which collect and redistribute surplus food from supermarkets and restaurant chains, and the Tej Kohli Foundation, a global technology and health charity, which once a week provides special cardboard food boxes – nicknamed ‘YouCubes’ – that also include books, arts, crafts or toys for the children.
ECT giving a safety briefing to the project’s volunteers
Many local people, including schoolteachers, have also been volunteering at the distribution centre, which was initially based at the Young Adult Centre in Southall’s Park View Road and has now moved to St John’s Church, Southall Green.
“It’s a fantastic example of how much difference you can make and how effective you can be when people have that generosity of spirit and all work together,” says Elly.
Now, as the charities look towards the school holidays, and at the challenge of ‘holiday hunger’ highlighted by England footballer Marcus Rashford this week, Elly says they are aiming to continue with the food deliveries until the end of August.
She said Rashford’s campaign, in which he succeeded in persuading the government to extend its school food voucher scheme into the holidays, had also helped to take some of the perceived social stigma away from the issue of food poverty in local communities.
“He highlighted an issue we’ve been campaigning on for a long time,” she comments. “It was an issue before Covid-19 and when he spoke about his mum experiencing hardship and that sometimes we all need some extra help, it was about taking that stigma out.”
For ECT, any issue where transport can play a part in solving issues of hardship or vulnerability represents an opportunity for the charity to step up and use its decades of experience to make a difference.
“As a charity we’re focused on using our experience as transport providers to make it possible for people to access the support they need to lead healthy, happy lives,” says CEO Anna Whitty. “That might involve taking isolated or elderly people on their weekly trip to the shops, providing a minibus and driver for a youth group day trip or – in these past few months of lockdown – delivering food parcels to thousands of vulnerable individuals and families across the local communities that our drivers know so well.
“We also believe strongly in the values of partnership and collaboration. At the beginning of the lockdown we reached out to colleagues and friends at local councils and community groups and asked: ‘What can we do to help?’ I’m so pleased that through partnerships with those such as Young Ealing Foundation, Southall Community Alliance and Ealing Council, we have been able to help so many people in such a meaningful way.”
See the video from BBC Breakfast about the project below:
Our Southall food distribution service in partnership with @SouthallCommAll & @ECT_Charity is working with the @KohliFoundation and their @YouCubeBox to reduce stigma and give people a "hand-up" not a "hand-out".— Young Ealing Foundation (@young_ealing) June 23, 2020
Hear more about it @BBCNews @BBCBreakfast #YoungEaling https://t.co/ToAbTFG9DS