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Food for Life: Foodhall steps up to the plate

Life isn't about greed, violence, supremacy or hate. It's about food, shelter and caring for others.

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Foodhall before lockdown.

When things look bleak, stuff still gets done. There are kind, gentle people doing good things everywhere. Sheffield has plant and seed swaps, children's activities, mutual support groups, co-operatives, choirs, arts and crafts, friends groups tending parks, litter-pickers...

There's so much volunteer work that we just couldn't function without the huge 'gift economy'. When coronavirus hit us, people didn't simply avoid the outside world like the plague. Those who were able to help stepped forward, without waiting for permission or central government schemes.

There was a scramble to create mechanisms to keep people fed, talking between agencies and working together in a loose network of varied organisations. A coordinated response to the crisis grew between dozens of groups alongside Voluntary Action Sheffield and Sheffield City Council.

Many people work long hours to help the city's foodbanks, now supporting nearly 3,000 people every week. Foodbanks are charities and usually need referral from a GP, social worker or tenancy support worker.

In contrast to this approach, Foodhall is a city centre mutual aid project, also part of the city's joint response. It's become a hub of activity during the pandemic. They're transforming surplus and donated food into parcels and meals and getting it to people who need it. In one typical week last month they delivered 130 parcels, 131 people collected food from the front of Foodhall, and they cooked 1,181 meals.

Sheffield City Council has given emergency funding and is now donating food for cooking. Ethical shop New Roots has lent bike trailers and donated stocks to Foodhall, which passes on surplus to the foodbanks. They in turn pass on spare cooking ingredients.

Isaac, one of the Foodhall coordinators, says they've distributed enough food to feed a single person the equivalent of three meals a day for nearly 13 years. It's an essential service, and an entirely voluntary one. The feedback is heartwarming and emotional, he notes. Some in our city would have simply gone hungry for days if not for these joint efforts.

Two years ago the National Food Service was Foodhall's vision of a decentralised but mutually supportive mesh of projects and hubs doing exactly this. As the recession deepened, that seed of an idea sprouted into a garden of plenty. Now, under the Coronavirus lockdown, it's a complete necessity, a survival strategy. They're linked with community-level food projects from Bristol to Glasgow, all sharing ideas, help and materials.

The demand is rising continuously, but so is the effort. Foodhall has so many cycle volunteers it's 'lending' them out. But more help, money and food donations, especially fresh ingredients and long-life products, are really needed. We urge you to look at the foodbank and Foodhall websites, see what they need specifically, and offer what you can. The Foodhall teams include chefs, warehousing, distribution and self-isolated people working on communications from home.

If you can help, you'll find that training, coordination and health measures are taken very seriously. More than all this, there's a tangible feeling of social solidarity, of being there for others. Giving is central to this. In fact it's central to everyone's life, and we don't realise how much until it vanishes.

Events & Campaigns

Campaign for Space for Cycling and Walking

With the roads nearly empty, fresh air and escape from respiratory diseases suddenly seems possible, but narrow pavements make social distancing tricky. Cycle Sheffield has joined the campaign for 'active transport' measures at this crucial time. Across Europe and America, unused road capacity is being coned off to form safe cycling and walking space, helping with essential journeys or daily exercise. Please support their online appeal.

Online Film Screening: Emwas

Sunday 17 May | 5pm-7pm | Free

Could this be a new thing for lockdown life? Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Cinema Palestino present the showing of a film to commemorate the eradication of Palestinian villages in 1967, as Israel extended its occupation. It's followed by discussion with director Dima Abu Ghoush. Free, but you need to register on Eventbrite to get the password beforehand.

Filed under: #Coronavirus

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