As a destitute asylum seeker with no access to any statutory support or basic income, one of your most pressing concerns is where your next meal will come from. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of our refugee friends were reliant on local day centres, food banks and community kitchens to keep themselves fed from day to day. In London, there was an extensive network of charities, faith groups and community groups providing hot meals and food parcels for those who needed it. However, many of these have been forced to close or charge their way of working due to social distancing restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and this has significantly impacted our friends.
This is why, back in March we decided to set up a food parcel delivery service to ensure that our friends were provided with food once a month, which they could cook for themselves at home. Along with food, we deliver essential toiletries, which our friends would usually collect when visiting our day centre. As JRS supports refugee friends living across London, who are often moving from place to place depending on where they can find temporary shelter, we always knew that delivering much needed food and toiletries to almost 300 people on a monthly basis would be a challenge! However, we could see that it was a pressing need and so focussed our efforts on making it work. It has been a pleasure to help recruit and coordinate 24 new volunteer drivers over the past 6 months and form new partnerships with food banks across the city. Thanks to this support, and of course the generous donations we have received in that time, we have so far succeeded in delivering over 1500 food and toiletries parcels since the beginning of lockdown. This has gone some way in easing the hunger felt by our destitute friends who are seeking asylum.
Food items from your kitchen cupboard could be delivered directly to a destitute refugee friend of JRS. Find out how you can donate food and toiletry items to our centre for deliveries.
In addition to helping coordinate food deliveries from our centre in Wapping, I have also witnessed the joy of collaboration in my work at JRS: we have now set up partnerships with five organisations across London; North Paddington Food Bank, Square Mile Food Bank, Richmond Food Bank, Granville Community Centre and Croydon Day Centre for Refugees. A huge thanks to these incredible organisations! They play a key role in our work as they provide the food and toiletries that our friends so desperately need; our committed JRS volunteer drivers who live nearby collect from them and deliver to refugee friends in the local area. Teresa Smith, has been able to continue her volunteering throughout the summer due to our arrangement with Richmond Foodbank, “The first couple of times I went over to Wapping [in East London, where JRS UK is based] to collect the parcels, but the whole process has since been made so much easier, as I now collect them every week from The Vineyard [in Richmond]. It has been an added bonus to get to know the work of this fantastic organisation and the volunteers there, who are always extremely helpful and provide generous parcels, tailored thoughtfully to the requirements of the refugees I deliver to and their families.”
I have heard countless times just how much of a difference receiving a food parcel can make to our friends. One of our friends who was particularly struggling recently shared with my colleagues and I how it lifted his day, “You know I am really happy today, because I just got my JRS food parcel! I have plenty of food and drink and now I am so happy. I am now a lot happier today than yesterday.” The reassurance of knowing you have plenty to eat and that there are other people who care about how you are, can really boost someone’s mood and give them strength.
As food insecurity continues to be a concern for our refugee friends over the winter months, I am incredibly thankful for all the volunteers and partner organisations supporting us to provide food to those experiencing destitution at the hands of the asylum system. I know they, and my colleagues across JRS UK, are committed to continuing this service for as long as it is necessary to help ease hunger among our refugee friends.
Rhiannon Prideaux is Emergency Response Team Coordinator at JRS UK.
Without your donations it would be impossible for JRS UK to deliver hundreds of food and toiletry parcels to refugees in need around London. Donate to JRS UK today, and help fund this vital service.