'Without it we'd starve in a week': The food hub feeding thousands of Londoners

Many of those queuing represent an entire family (Picture: W8Media)

Winding its way through the streets of north London, this seemingly endless queue is a sobering wake-up call to how people are living hand-to-mouth in modern Britain.

Many of the people standing in line represent an entire family, struggling to get by and relying on food banks and community projects to keep them from going hungry.

Volunteers at London’s Community Kitchen in Wembley, where these shocking images were taken, say the huge numbers of people queuing for over a mile each week is a regular occurrence.

They said those seeking help include pregnant women and disabled people who stand in ‘freezing cold temperatures’ for hours not knowing what they will be given.

The hub went viral last week when a time-lapse clip of the colossal socially-distanced queue was posted on social media. That one saw nearly 800 people waiting to collect food for more than 3,000 residents living within just a few miles.

One of the volunteers, Taz Khan, said they served nearly 900 people last weekend and he expects the number seeking help will soon reach 1,000.

Taz described how helpers at similar projects around the country have all told him ‘this operation is by far the biggest in the UK today’.

w8media 13/03/21 people queue for food in Harrow at the food bank today. Images by W8Media

Locals regularly stand in line for hours, even in the freezing cold (Picture: w8media)

He told Metro.co.uk: ‘When you see it on a video it’s different. But when you’re volunteering your heart beats a little to make sure that we give as much to the last person as we did to the first.

‘I mean, that’s the idea that we go with, but anything can change at any given time.

‘Some women are pregnant, some people are very disabled, they are standing in freezing cold temperatures and they don’t even know what they are going to get.’

The Community Kitchen is not a formal food bank where users must be referred by a charity or GP in order to get help.

Rather, it operates like a ‘community Ocado’ dishing out provisions, Taz said, adding that if somebody is willing to line up for hours in the freezing cold ‘then I don’t think it’s right for me to then qualify you to see if you need the service or not’.

He went on: ‘We basically say “Look, we have got the food and you are welcome to come and take it”. It’s a human right to have access to free or affordable food. That’s what we’re doing, we’re just giving them their basic human right back. A bit of dignity.’

Volunteers say the lines have been growing over the past few weeks (Picture: w8media)
The hub went viral last week after a clip of the massive queue was posted online (Picture: w8media)
Regular users have said the hub is ‘desperately needed’ (Picture: w8media)

Responding to the time-lapse footage of the queue on Twitter, Brent North MP Barry Gardiner posted on March 8: ‘This is the horrific reality of life for so many under this government. You guys @KitchenLondons are doing amazing work. But it should not be like this in the 5th richest country in the world. Feeding our families should have been the priority of @RishiSunak budget last week.’

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt said the scenes outside London’s Community Kitchen had ‘broken my heart’ and were a ‘sad indictment’ of a national squeeze on council budgets.

He added that the queues ‘show how close to the line people actually are’, adding: ‘Can you imagine how they must feel having to stand there?’

Nilesh, 52, started visiting the hub back in June last year after he and his wife were both laid off from their jobs in retail as a result of the pandemic.

The couple’s savings quickly dried up and they soon found themselves struggling to feed their three kids.

Nilesh told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s difficult to stand in a queue for food in this country, but it’s happening. Without this project we would really be struggling a lot more.’

w8media 13/03/21 people queue for food in Harrow at the food bank today. Images by W8Media

For some families the parcel will make up the bulk of their weekly food (Picture: w8media)
Some had nowhere else to turn after losing their jobs during the pandemic (Picture: w8media)

He said the lines have been getting ‘bigger and bigger’ over the last few weeks, adding: ‘There’s a lot of new faces there, and they’re all from different walks of life.

‘Speaking to them, they’re all in that similar kind of need. There’s a few who have lost members of their family due to Covid. For some people you’re the only person they speak to as well.

‘It’s not easy, but it is what it is. And unfortunately I think it’s going to get a lot worse.’

Nilesh said the food he takes home makes up around 75% of what the family will eat that week.

He went on: ‘Whatever we get from here we try and sort of ration it between the family, but there’s only so much you can ration. When you’re hungry, you’re hungry.

‘And when you’ve got kids you make sure they’re fed and when they go to school they’ve got something inside them.’

w8media 13/03/21 people queue for food in Harrow at the food bank today. Images by W8Media

One user said he fears the situation for some is ‘going to get a lot worse’ (Picture: w8media)

His is a story all too familiar to those standing alongside him seeking help, including Dee, 40, who collects food for herself and her four children.

She was told about the hub almost a year ago after similarly finding herself unemployed shortly after the UK was plunged into lockdown.

The former social services contact supervisor told Metro.co.uk: ‘The longer the pandemic goes on, the worse the outcome is going to be for everyone, especially for people on furlough, because they can’t stay there forever.

‘The longer this goes on, more companies are going to close, more people are going to become unemployed and more people are going to need the services of an organisation like this.

‘It’s desperately needed. Without the hub, I think me and my family would starve within a week.’

Another said that her family ‘would starve within a week’ without the hub (Picture: w8media)

Cllr Butt told Metro.co.uk: ‘The Government has made pledges about levelling up but when you have a borough of 335,000 people and about ten per cent of the population are unemployed, with black and Asian people disproportionately impacted in the pandemic, you have a culmination of all these issues.

‘The queues outside the food bank just show how close to the line people actually are.’

He went on: ‘It breaks my heart that people have to queue in order to get free food. I’m glad that there are organisations like the Community Kitchen. They are a lifeline supporting individuals in their lowest point in life. That’s the thing that gets me, that they are forced to rely on these organisations. 

‘But it’s a sad indictment of society that they need this help.’

He praised the borough’s voluntary and charity sector, including churches, mosques, temples and Gurdwaras, for opening their doors ‘at the most difficult of times’.

Cllr Butt said: ‘We need to praise those communities for coming forward in the most difficult of times and we are working with them. They have given people the information they need so we can help them.’ 

He added: ‘We have provided support to individuals who can’t find work, who can’t put food on the table, we have been providing support to them with food and financial poverty and everything else. 

‘But we need the funding to give them the dignity so they don’t have to go round, begging bowl in hand. We need the strong foundations of education, housing and employment so people can lift themselves out of poverty. All these issues need to be tackled.’

The council leader also referred to evidence showing that Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities [BAME] have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

He said: ‘The BAME communities have had enough of people talking about it. They want to know what the Government is going to do. If the Government doesn’t engage with us as councils as give us the tools we need to engage and work with these communities, we’ll still be talking about this next year.’

A government spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond. That’s why we’ve targeted our support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and introducing the £229 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed.’

He also noted that the government has provided Brent with more than £1.5 million as part of that fund, and residents in need can find out about the support available here.

The spokesperson added: ‘We have also provided £220 million to expand the Holiday Activities and Food programme for children, £35 million to support schools in disadvantaged areas provide breakfasts to those who need it, and £32 million for food distribution charities including FareShare.’

London’s Community Kitchen is fundraising to help feed communities across several London boroughs – for more information or to donate click here.

READ MORE: My community kitchen feeds over 15,000 people a week – poverty is closer than you think

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