‘Humanitarian disaster’ food shortage for East End families in poverty

Hundreds of food bags being prepared at Bow Foodbank

Hundreds of food bags being prepared at Bow Foodbank - Credit: Mike Brooke

Thousands of families are now depending on weekly foodbank handouts in the East End, despite lockdown restrictions being lifted. 

It has been described as a “humanitarian disaster” by Bow Foodbank, which has 300 volunteers at its two centres in Bethnal Green and Bromley-by-Bow. 

The number of families needing help has shot up from 150 at the beginning of the pandemic to almost 2,000 at this one foodbank alone.  

Jemima Hindmarch... "A huge amount of hidden hunger kin the East End"

Jemima Hindmarch... "A huge amount of hidden hunger in the East End" - Credit: Mike Brooke

“What we see is a humanitarian disaster,” the foodbank’s communications officer Jemima Hindmarch told the East London Advertiser

“People are struggling so profoundly that they won’t recover. We are experiencing key members of the community joining the queue. 


You may also want to watch:


“There’s a huge amount of hidden hunger — it can be hard to tell who’s struggling.”  

Half the pensioners in the East End live below the poverty line, the charity has found, while two out of three schoolchildren are also in need.

Most Read

But the crisis has spread further up the social scale. 

“So many people are now leading unsustainable lives,” Jemima explained. “People are coming to us who never thought of themselves as the ‘type’ to go to foodbanks — they were earning up to £50,000 a year, but now struggle after losing their jobs.”   

Danny Boyle... donated £20,000 to keep Bow foodbank running

Danny Boyle... donated £20,000 to keep Bow Foodbank running - Credit: Jemima Hindmarch

Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle gave a £20,000 personal gift to the foodbank in February. The Slumdog Millionaire director who created the 2012 Olympics opening extravaganza at Stratford spent a day with volunteers in February, delivering to 450 homes. 

The foodbank was set up at Bow Church in 2016 to help a handful of families as a small food pantry. But the pandemic has turned the operation into a “humanitarian disaster” with numbers shooting up to 700 families a week.

It has received public donations, small government grants and help from corporate schemes, buying its food at cost price from supermarkets like Morrison’s. 

The foodbank also depends on volunteers to join the team of 300.   

Volunteers at Bow Foodbank preparing bags at Bethnal Green

Volunteers at Bow Foodbank preparing bags at Bethnal Green - Credit: Mike Brooke

Bow Foodbank has an open door policy, with no referral, paperwork, vouchers, residential proof needed.

“We do not turn people away empty-handed” is its pledge.

Sessions at Bromley-by-Bow centre are Mondays 8.30am-12.30pm at St Leonard’s Road. Bethnal Green sessions are Wednesdays 2pm-7pm at Raine’s Foundation School in Approach Road. 

Jemima Hindmarch (left) and one of her 300 volunteers, Daisey Cooper, preparing food bags

Jemima Hindmarch (left) and one of her 300 volunteers, Daisey Cooper, preparing food bags at Bethnal Green - Credit: Mike Brooke

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter