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A year to remember

As we approach Christmas and the end of another year, we have a great deal to reflect on at The Food Chain, and much to be thankful for in what has been a very eventful year!

There are two particular things that happened this year that seem to me to tell you everything you need to know about The Food Chain

The first is the overwhelmingly positive response to our public fundraising campaign this summer. We got through a critical financial position thanks to the tremendous response of the Food Chain community.  I wish I could personally thank every single person who helped us out, but there are so many that’s not possible. We are all deeply grateful for every single contribution.

The second thing, that will stay with me long beyond the year is ended, is the story of one of our service users, who for the purposes of this article we will call Margaret.

Margaret was first referred to us in February by an HIV nurse. At that time she was pregnant and homeless, depending on friends for support. She is seeking asylum in the UK. Her asylum application had been rejected and she was in the process of appealing the decision. We initially provided support for Margaret through grocery deliveries as she had no recourse to public funds and no income.

We then contacted Margaret in early August to see if she would like to come to our Eating Together lunches. She told us that she now had a 6 week old baby and had nowhere to live. She and the baby had been sleeping on night buses in recent days. She had been turned away from the local authority as not eligible for support, and was told to go to the Home Office. When she went there, she was turned away again as her appointment was not until several days later. She was given a piece of paper with the names and numbers of some hostels. However, Margaret had no money to pay for hostel accommodation.

We asked Margaret to make her way to the kitchen, where we able to give her some food and formula for the baby. She was also able to get some much needed sleep for a short while. While she was with us we contacted several statutory and voluntary sector agencies to try and get help. The local authority eventually agreed to provide emergency accommodation until the date of the Home Office appointment.

Following that appointment Margaret was housed, pending the outcome of her asylum application appeal. We were able to offer some further groceries once she had an address we could send them to.

We were all shocked at the failure of the system and the lack of compassion shown to Margaret. It is hard to accept that a vulnerable woman with a six-week old baby needs to sleep on buses in in London, in 2019.

There are many people living with HIV in London, in equally difficult situations, who are referred to The Food Chain every year. As we go in to 2020 let’s hope there are fewer, rather than more, and that one day we will reach a time when our services are no longer needed.

That would be something to celebrate.

From everyone in the staff team, we wish you a very happy, restful and peaceful Christmas, and a happy new year.