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‘Winter foodbank crisis looming’ as government cash runs dry, Bethnal Green rector warns London Assembly

PUBLISHED: 10:00 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:05 11 September 2020

Pupils from Swanlea School volunteered at St Matthew's Church foodbank launch in November 2019. Picture: St Matthew's

Pupils from Swanlea School volunteered at St Matthew's Church foodbank launch in November 2019. Picture: St Matthew's

St Mathew's Church

Demand for emergency food supplies from the Bethnal Green foodbank has ballooned 14 times over during lockdown, it has emerged.

St Matthew's rector the Rev Erin Clark shows London Assembly's Unmesh Desai the crisis situation at Bethnal Green foodbank. Picture: St Matthew's ChurchSt Matthew's rector the Rev Erin Clark shows London Assembly's Unmesh Desai the crisis situation at Bethnal Green foodbank. Picture: St Matthew's Church

The number of people receiving food supplies shot up from just 60 a month in January to 800 a month during the pandemic, the rector Erin Clark has revealed.

Now St Matthew’s Church which runs the food bank is appealing for community help to support “as many folks as possible in this critical time” after government funding has run dry.

The Rev Clark made the plea to London Assembly member Unmesh Desai who was on a fact-finding visit to St Matthew’s to see himself the pressures volunteers are now facing.

“The foodbank has had a rollercoaster of a first year,” she told him.

The Rev Erin Clark says: 'Growing number of families in food poverty and social deprivation need our help.' Picture: Mike BrookeThe Rev Erin Clark says: 'Growing number of families in food poverty and social deprivation need our help.' Picture: Mike Brooke

“But we have stayed true to our goal to provide emergency food support to those who need it most.

“There’s a growing number of people needing help and the need to address the causes of food poverty and social deprivation.”

The parish is finding the cash to keep the stockroom full “notoriously hard”, she warned.

This was despite the generosity of volunteers and the public, including many furloughed workers.

London Assembly's Unmesh Desai. Picture: Mike BrookeLondon Assembly's Unmesh Desai. Picture: Mike Brooke

Labour’s Mr Desai, who represents east London at City Hall, is calling for urgent help from Whitehall.

He said: “The emergence of independent food banks is a symptom that the government has ‘outsourced’ its duty of care for the most vulnerable to charities.

“Yet we can be proud that our community in Bethnal Green has stepped in to donate supplies and with volunteers giving their time to make sure families don’t go hungry.”

Now the Bethnal Green food bank, like others, is about to confront a “potential second wave” without government cash in the coming winter, he warned.

Erin Clark (far left) with Bishop of Stepney at St Paul's Cathedral ordination of women deacons in January 2019, who became Dean of St Matthew's the following March. Picture: London DiocesanErin Clark (far left) with Bishop of Stepney at St Paul's Cathedral ordination of women deacons in January 2019, who became Dean of St Matthew's the following March. Picture: London Diocesan

The food bank was set up in November last year when the new Rector appealed through the East London Advertiser for volunteers.

This followed a food bank at St Mary’s Church in Bow being overwhelmed by demand — four months before coronavirus put yet more pressure on the two parishes.

The rise in demand for help from families on the poverty line has caused even more financial pressures since government funding stopped. Only donations from supermarkets and wellwishers are keeping the food bank going.


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