This has been a busy and rewarding month for all of us at The Food Chain. The overwhelmingly supportive response to our public fundraising appeal from volunteers, staff, sector colleagues and members of the public who are new to us, has been both hugely encouraging and humbling in equal part.
There is no doubt at all that The Food Chain is a highly-valued and much-loved part of the London community. Aside from the fact that the appeal is going very well and we have already raised over £25,000, the nature of the response is a clear indicator that we all want our vital services to continue for as long as they are needed.
Every week see painful reminders that our services are still needed very much.
Just last week one of our service users arrived in the kitchen with her very small baby of just a few weeks old, having spent the previous night travelling around London on a bus, as she is homeless.
She had been turned away the day before by a London local authority with a list of hostels to call to try and find a bed for the night. They had interpreted her as ineligible for their support even though she has a new baby, no money and nowhere to stay. She is an asylum seeker who has been in the UK for several years, whose application to remain has not yet been settled.
On her arrival in the kitchen she was exhausted and distressed and had no formula milk for the baby. When she was with us she was able to sleep for a short while and eat a meal. We provided formula milk and also gave her some food to take away. For the rest of the day our team worked hard on her behalf to secure accommodation and support. By the end of the day, the local authority in question had placed her and the baby in temporary emergency accommodation, until her next meeting with the Home Office about her asylum application, in the coming week.
We ended the day knowing that we had at least helped this one woman and her baby find somewhere safe to stay for a short while.
If we had not been here they would both have remained homeless, hungry and unsafe.
This is just one example of how sometimes our welfare system fails and inhumanity seeps in. I could share several other examples of the immensely difficult real lives of people living with HIV who we meet at The Food Chain. For this HIV-positive mother and child, and for the many other service users who are referred to us it is not possible to live well with HIV in London today. If it was, they would not be on service with us.
When the system fails, charities such as The Food Chain are the last and only hope for the people affected. We are the safety net beneath the safety net.
As Deborah Gold of the National AIDS Trust so eloquently put it in her message of support for The Food Chain fundraising campaign ‘When our safety nets disappear, we should all hang our heads in shame’
Our experience in this first month of our fundraising campaign means we can all raise our heads with pride. There is such determination, generosity and goodwill for us to continue our work in this incredibly difficult and hostile climate. Everyone is doing all they can to preserve the safety net that is The Food Chain and all the signs are good.
We send our heartfelt thanks to every single person who has contributed to the campaign so far. It is a brilliant effort.
For our part we make sure that it is business as usual at The Food Chain as we continue to provide responsive and high-quality services.
This is the very least we can do.