Mum who asks if we want to ‘die of coronavirus or starve to death’ sets up Whitechapel foodbank appeal

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 18:12 13 May 2020

Lynda Ouazar...

Lynda Ouazar... "I was scared of coronavirus, but forgot fear because people starving to death is much more frightening." Picture: Sarah Ainslie

�Sarah Ainslie

Lynda Ouazar fears the homeless dying from starvation on our streets more than worrying about catching coronavirus herself.

Lynda's 'Solidarity Britannia'  food bank at Toynbee Hall. Picture: Sarah AinslieLynda's 'Solidarity Britannia' food bank at Toynbee Hall. Picture: Sarah Ainslie

So the mum-of-four gathered volunteers and set up a foodbank in Whitechapel with motorbike riders dispatching food parcels to those facing hunger who have fallen through the safety net because of mistrust of the authorities.

Her volunteers now feed 500 destitute people a week across London during the lockdown from their base at Toynbee Hall, packing bags of fresh vegetables, pasta, lentils, cans of tuna, bread, flour, onions, potatoes, cooking oil, tea and coffee, all paid for by donations from wellwishers.

“People told me to stay at home and asked why I give myself the hassle,” Lynda says in a Spitalfields Life blog. “But someone has to do it. It’s hard not to get involved.”

Volunteers deliver supplies to the emergency food bank at Toynbee Hall. Picture: ©Sarah AinslieVolunteers deliver supplies to the emergency food bank at Toynbee Hall. Picture: ©Sarah Ainslie

She was “one of those parents that took the children out of school before they were officially closed” when Covid-19 began.

“I was that scared,” she reveals in a conversation with anthropologist and writer Delwar Hussain.

“But then I forgot about that fear because, for me, people starving is so much more frightening. Getting sick from coronavirus is a risk, but the situation homeless people find themselves in is worse.

Feeding 500 a week... Jonathan Moberley and Lynda Ouazar at their Solidarity Britannia emergency food bank. Picture: Sarah AinslieFeeding 500 a week... Jonathan Moberley and Lynda Ouazar at their Solidarity Britannia emergency food bank. Picture: Sarah Ainslie

Do we want to die of coronavirus or starve to death? That’s not right.”

Her volunteers began in a small community centre in Shoreditch, but were stopped by police because of emergency ‘social distance’ regulations and had to switch to a secure space at Toynbee Hall.

“Some people were close to starving when we first started,” Lynda revealed. “They were really struggling before we got the delivery riders organised.”

The people they feed have lost their jobs. Many have no legal UK status and are not entitled to benefits, having worked mainly cash-in-hand and not eligible for the national furlough scheme. Some have lost their homes and are on the street, despite government calls to landlords not to evict tenants during the lockdown.

So her Solidarity Britannia appeal is “feeding people in need” rather than judging any legal status.

Tech worker Jonathan Moberly, founder of Bethnal Green’s Weavers community action group who helped Lynda set up the appeal, told the East London Advertiser: “It has dawned on Tower Hamlets Council, which had been confident they knew everyone who needs help, that there are huge numbers out there they don’t know about who face starvation.

“These people don’t trust the authorities. The government says they are welcome to get medical help, but they’re scared to go even to a doctor’s surgery which has to report all cases.”

The Solidarity Britannia food bank appeal uses donations to buy in bulk. It sends out weekly parcels without question to those in need because, as Lynda sees it, asking for food is humiliating for those used to relying on themselves.

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