How Coronavirus has affected the Food Stop

June 05, 2020

Nichola, our Food Stop Coordinator, spoke to us about how COVID-19 has affected the shop and its customers.

The Food Stop is an emergency food outlet that works to prevent homelessness and help people in crisis. It is based in Leicester city centre and opens five days a week to serve customers.

The Food Stop is an emergency support service that helps people in crisis and works to prevent homelessness. We support people that don’t have enough income to feed themselves or their families once they have paid other outgoings like their rent and bills.

Many of our customers also have other needs and we see people experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, and drug and alcohol problems.

To better meet the needs of our customers we choose to run the Food Stop like a shop, giving people independence and empowering them by allowing them to select what they need, rather than giving them a pre-made parcel. A benefit of this is that it affords our volunteers time to get to know people, provide a positive interaction for the customer, and so we can signpost them onto other support services like Moneywise Plus, Citizens Advice and the Action Homeless Duty Desk.

There is a lot of stigma around using food banks, but we offer a lifeline to people in crisis as anyone can go through a time when they are struggling and need extra support. For some people we are the only human interaction they get in a week, so it’s important that we are a caring, non-judgemental community for everyone.

We pre-emptively scaled back our operation a week before lock down was introduced and moved to a model of handing pre-made parcels through the door to customers queuing outside the shop. We also reduced the size of our volunteer teams to protect those most and risk and to keep everyone safe.

We have been assisting Leicester City Council with deliveries to people who have been signposted through the COVID-19 Support service. In our first week we did around 10 boxes for delivery a day, in the following two weeks this went up to around 100 per day. By the end of last week, we had done over 800 parcels in five days. In the last five weeks we estimate we have put together over 3000 food parcels.

Losing the social element of our work has been one of the hardest parts of the last six weeks, but it has allowed us to move to a safer delivery model that better meets the increasing need of the city. I am concerned for our customers who are isolated and the mental health impact of anxiety. We are missing the opportunity to regularly check-in with people and offer them support

We are grateful for everyone who has kindly donated to us over the last 6 weeks. We have also been shown great support by Leicester City Council, who have been bulk buying ambient food for food banks in the city. I’d also like to thank the owners of Café Rialto, who have been supplying us with hot drinks throughout the day, as well as going out of their way to open and close the Arcade for us.

Above all, I want to thank our incredible volunteer team, who without we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this!

When the lockdown eases we won’t be able to go straight back to how we operated before and we’ll have to find new ways to connect with people. Customers are always grateful for the support we give them, but I think we will see new people who have been negatively affected by the lockdown, people who have lost jobs and businesses for whom approaching a food bank might not be easy. As we are in more of a routine now we have more space to think ahead and plan how can anticipate and meet these new needs. We’re anticipating that the need will be much greater than before.

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