HUNDREDS of people in urgent need of assistance during the coronavirus lockdown are getting a helping hand from Leicester City Council.
Since the Government’s instruction to stay at home was made on 23 March, council staff have been ordering vast quantities of food and other essential items, which are now being parcelled up and delivered – free of charge – to elderly people and vulnerable families who have no other way of getting hold of supplies.
Staff who are used to running election counts are now using those same organisational skills to run the city council’s emergency food hub – and they’ve already provided urgently-needed food to more than 400 people across the city.
Each food parcel contains basics like bread and milk, breakfast cereal and eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, tinned beans and pulses, pasta or rice, and teabags and squash.
Essentials like toilet roll, toothpaste and shower gel are also included.
From next week, ambient ready meals, which don’t need refrigeration and can simply be microwaved, will be added to the parcels too.
The council’s food boxes can be adapted to suit gluten-free, diabetic, vegetarian or vegan diets – and, thanks to local donors, books and sticker albums are being included as a gift for the children in the household.
Once packed, the food parcels are delivered to addresses across the city by drivers from the city council’s own passenger transport team – staff who would normally be driving children to school.
Electoral services manager Alison Saxby has swapped her day job too, and she’s now co-ordinating the scheme from the council’s food hub.
“We’ve had to use a network of suppliers to get the produce we want in the quantities we need, but I’m pleased to say that we’ve now built up a good stock of food that we’ll be sending out to people in need over the coming days and weeks,” she said.
“I’ve got 3,000 tins of baked beans, 500kg of cheese and a small mountain of rice – and we were also lucky to get a consignment of potatoes that were heading for a chip shop, before the chip shop closed.
“Obviously we’re going to need a lot of food to support local people during this crisis, so we’d love to hear from any companies who would like to help their local community by donating significant quantities of stock to us.
“And if any local supermarkets have large quantities of Easter eggs left over this weekend, please let us know and we’ll make sure there’s an extra chocolate treat in our food parcels next week.”
City council staff are using information they hold to identify elderly people who may or may not already be known to the council – through social care or housing, for example – and contacting them directly to find out if they need help.
More than 3,500 people have already been contacted, with around 4,000 letters going out next week to reach people for whom the council has no phone number or email address.
Anyone in urgent need who contacts the council on its new crisis support email address will also be offered a food parcel, if they have no other means of getting supplies.
The city council’s emergency food provision is supporting the arrangements that the government has put in place to make sure that the city’s most vulnerable individuals – who have been told to shield themselves for at least 12 weeks – receive a weekly delivery of food.
City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “What we didn’t want to happen was for elderly or vulnerable people to fall through the net because they weren’t on the government’s list of those who should be medically shielding.
“By providing elderly people or vulnerable families with a one-off parcel of food and essential items to help them through a difficult patch, or by delivering food to them every single week, we hope to support them during the coronavirus lockdown and make life a little bit easier for them.
“We are allocating whatever funds are necessary to support our food hub – which is just one strand of our emergency food provision that will be giving a helping hand to those most in need during the coming weeks and months.
“City council staff have done an extraordinary job in establishing the supply chains and setting up the systems needed to run a food distribution network – but they’ve also shown great commitment in identifying those who most need our help.
“Their dedication to the task has been commendable and I’m extremely grateful for everything they’ve done to get this up and running so quickly.”
The city council’s emergency food provision also includes extra funding for its city centre foodbank, support for a network of community foodbanks across Leicester, alternative food provision for children who normally have a free school meal, and hot food for homeless people now living in temporary accommodation.
The government allocated £3.7m of hardship funding to the city council, which is being used to give additional council tax support to low income households, assist those facing financial hardship – including help with fuel costs – and support the emergency food provision during the coronavirus crisis.
The city council’s new crisis support email address - C19support@leicester.gov.uk - can be used by anyone who’s worried about having enough food, suffering financial hardship or even if they’re feeling lonely and isolated.
Anyone worried about a vulnerable or elderly neighbour can also use the email address to get help for them.
Picture caption: Food boxes awaiting delivery to people in need in Leicester