Briefing Title: Leeds Emergency Food Response (COVID 19)
Briefing Date: June 2020
Leeds City Council- Written evidence (FPO0101)
This paper provides an overview of the Leeds Emergency Food Response (EFR) plans put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and considers lessons learned from the process. All data presented is accurate as of 1st June 2020.
Food is a cross cutting priority for Leeds City Council. Across the spectrum this includes poverty, diet-related ill-health, nutritional care, waste, climate change, tourism and public safety. Food Insecurity is a new and growing agenda for Leeds City Council, most recently tabled at the Council’s Executive Board as part of a series of paper co-authored with Leeds Poverty Truth Commission to ensure issues are discussed in accordance with the Commission’s Humanifesto, valuing the views of people with lived experience.
Leeds City Council and partners have a long established relationship working together to combat food poverty and insecurity in the city. The voluntary, faith and community sector have historically responded to local need and provided support for people in crisis, without access to food, from foodbanks, soup kitchens, schools, churches to Council Community Hubs and housing offices. This collaborative approach is facilitated by the Leeds Food Aid Network (funded by Leeds City Council) which aims to bring different people, initiatives and institutions together who are involved in tackling food poverty in the city. The Leeds Food Aid Network provides coordination and support to food aid providers and provides data and insight into foodbank usage and the causes of food poverty and insecurity. The Network consists of foodbanks, food drop in’s/soup kitchens, street outreaches/soup runs, parish/food pantries and certain forms of social enterprise such as ‘pay as you feel’ cafes.
There is also a growing awareness and recognition of the issue of food insecurity within the private sector. Partners such as FareShare Yorkshire and Leeds Community Foundation have created important links with the private sector which has led to investment in Leeds initiatives and in some cases developed into national programmes.
The emergence of the food access requirements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic have benefitted from the existing food insecurity infrastructure in the city, alongside research and evidence on the scale of poverty and the strength of partnership working amongst a range of organisations. In early March 2020, it was acknowledged that there was a need for a strong system of support prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to meet local needs. Many people who find themselves struggling during this time may have already been known to key services, however many are now facing an experience of vulnerability that they may have never encountered - with widespread job losses, self-isolation, and sickness of family and loved ones.
Latest data and evidence has revealed that 186,000 people live in areas of the city within the 10% most deprived nationally, and after housing costs are deducted from
incomes, 173,000 people are estimated to be living in poverty. Many people struggling during the pandemic may already be known to key services, however with widespread job losses, self-isolation, and sickness of family and loved ones, many more are now facing an experience of vulnerability that they may never have encountered previously. This has been evidenced through official DWP data in Leeds revealing that, in February 2020, 33,715 people citywide were claiming Universal Credit, but by April, this had increased to 50,407 (42% increase). Ward areas in Leeds have seen their number of UC cases increase by 53.1% on average. Furthermore, weekly data from local Leeds DWP offices on verified new claims to Universal Credit have shown that an average week before the pandemic would see around 800 new claims. Since the 16th March, after lockdown was announced, claims jumped to as high as 6,800 in one week, but have averaged out at 3000 claims a week over the 11 week period.
The Local Welfare Support scheme in Leeds, was an existing scheme for low income families requiring emergency provision of goods and services. In 2018/19
£536,928 was spent on direct award support for items such as food, fuel, white and brown goods, flooring and removals. In addition to direct awards, referrals to Fareshare for emergency food provision were also made on this scheme. LWS was designed to assist people in crisis once within a 6 month period, however the scheme has been operating flexibly to meet demand. In response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the scheme has been significantly adapted in order to meet changing needs of the city during this time. The scheme now offers support to any Leeds resident where no family or friends are able to assist (including those with no recourse to public funds). Common scenarios include households that are self- isolating, shielding, or finding it difficult to leave the home for food, medicines and other essentials.
Those who are medically at significant risk had been advised to self-isolate for at least 12 weeks, who although may receive some government support, may also need additional significant support. Those who face circumstances of domestic violence, poor mental health, difficult living circumstances, cramped homes and poverty will be particularly impacted by the pandemic. Work has been undertaken by Leeds City Council jointly with Forum Central (an organisations who supports the collective voice for the health & social care third sector in Leeds) to further identify those who may be at further risk or have specific inclusion needs to ensure appropriate support is available – including culturally appropriate food.
Therefore Leeds City Council began the process of co-ordinating an EFR to provide access to food and wider support needs, whilst considering options for long term support.
3.0 Initial steps
Since the 16 March 2020 the Council established and chairs a weekly emergency food provision meeting. The meeting is inclusive of internal and external partners and helped to plan and develop a collaborative approach for the city. These meetings have helped raise awareness of the emerging issues being faced by residents and service providers and to monitor and review the food needs in the city.
Through support from this group the Council established an EFR system to ensure the most vulnerable residents are able to access free and paid food during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Council opened a new warehouse facility designed to provide a central location in Leeds for food storage and distribution, linking fleet
vehicles and drivers for food deliveries and collections. This larger premises allows food to be packaged within social distancing guidelines.
The Council is working with schools, its catering division and other partners to ensure that vulnerable children and their families continue to receive the necessary support, which includes access to food/free school meals. The EFR is also closely aligned to the local monitoring of the national food parcels distribution scheme (Via NHS England) to provide food to shielded patients, with a view to offer additional support and to avoid duplication.
The EFR system is supported by Together Leeds – the Council volunteer response programme to Covid-19. 27 Community Care Hubs have been established in the city, one in each of the 33 electoral wards with some working across two wards. The Community Care Hubs are led by Third Sector organisations and are responsible for coordinating the Community Cares Volunteers (8,000 Leeds citizens who signed up to volunteer during the pandemic) to meet the need in their area. In addition to the main Community Care Hubs, there are also ‘spoke’ third sector organisations, who work with the lead organisation within an area. Each hub runs slightly differently to fit the context of their community, however most are intrinsically involved in supporting the emergency food provision process. These organisations also offer additional support, such as a ‘befriending’ telephone service, dog walking, putting bins out, collecting prescriptions and other support that may be required.
4.0 Leeds Food Supply
There is a strong food aid infrastructure in Leeds supported by partners including FareShare Yorkshire, ReThink food and wider Leeds Food Aid Network partners. FareShare is the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste. Through intercepting food from across the food supply chain, they redistribute good quality surplus food from the food industry and send it to nearly 10,000 charities and community groups nationally including homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs, schools, domestic violence refuges and community cafes. FareShare Yorkshire launched FareShare in Leeds (FiL) in August 2014 in partnership with Leeds City Council, Leeds Food Aid Network and St Georges Crypt. The Council’s Communities and Environment Directorate provides funding for FareShare Yorkshire to operate their food distribution centre to supply local foodbanks with food and support the delivery of the Local Welfare Support Scheme on behalf of the Council.
ReThink Food is a not for profit Community Interest Company which aims to address the environmental issue of waste in the production, distribution and sale of food. ReThink Food intercept surplus food, predominantly lower down in the supply chain directly from supermarkets and have been working to support projects across Leeds and Bradford since 2013.
In addition, The Trussell Trust has a great presence in Leeds co-ordinating 20 Trussell Trust Foodbanks grouped under Leeds South and East Foodbank and Leeds North and West Food Bank. These 20 foodbanks provide food parcels via a referral from an advice/support agency.
The most recent statistics from the Leeds Food Aid Network show that 33,645 people have accessed a foodbank in 2018/19. This is a 21% increase on 2017/18, and is approximately 4% of the Leeds population. When compared to national Trussell Trust estimates of 2% of UK households using foodbanks, Leeds is double
the national rate. Therefore demonstrating that pre Covid-19 Leeds already had a significant food insecurity challenge.
Many other community, voluntary and faith sector partners in the city support communities to access food and work closely with local shops and other partners to provide meals and food parcels. From these more informal approaches, it is known that 104,074 meal packs were provided in 2018/19.
Early discussions to develop the EFR system led to the agreement that FareShare Yorkshire and ReThink food would support Leeds City Council with access to food, to utilise via the warehouse facility, where it is stored and then packed into emergency food parcels for distribution. Leeds City Council also secured some budget to purchase food directly – please see below. In addition to this provisions the promotion of other food aid support was continued by the Leeds Food Aid Network.
5.0 Leeds City Council spend on food
Following the Chancellor’s Budget announcement on 11 March, local authorities have been allocated £1.6bn in additional funding to manage pressures relating to Covid-19. From this central fund, £21.9m was allocated to Leeds City Council to address pressures faced across all service areas in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Of this pot £20,000 per week is being spent on emergency food provision across the city. The funding is used to top up donated food from food providers such as FareShare with essential food.
It is estimated the total value of food purchased and provided to the Warehouse to- date is £406,000. This is estimated from food purchased by Leeds City Council and the value of food donated for the Council to distribute from FareShare and Rethink Food.
With regards the food purchased to date, the Council has spent £131,066. Further to this it has received approximately £275k worth of free food via donations from FareShare and ReThink Food.
Food Donations and Value
For the period 16th March to 2 June, the total amount of food from FareShare coming into Leeds (to Council and third sector Organisations) was 224.86 tonnes with a retail value of £382,374. Of this figure138.65 tonnes has been distributed from the new Leeds Warehouse with a retail value of £238,238. A further 119.6 tonnes of food has also been distributed across Leeds with a retail value of
£203,320 from ReThink Food, of which 21.4 tonnes has been distributed from the Leeds Warehouse with an estimated retail value of £36,380
Other donations received, to support the distribution of food includes
6.0 LCC Emergency Food Response system
An illustrative representation of the EFR System features in figure 1.
The EFR system is co-ordinated through a referral process. There are three ways that members of the public can access support:
1. Leeds City Council Covid -19 Helpline (established to support the public with all Covid-19 related needs)
2. Local Welfare Support Service (A service already established in the city to support the most vulnerable people in the city, offering awards for good and services)
3. Alternatively, organisations can make a referral to the Local Welfare Support Team by filling in a referral form.
Once a referral is received this is recorded on a monitoring systems and the need is RAG rated, based on the level of urgency in which food is required. The categories are:
The RAG rating supports the delivery of food provisions and wider support needs. If a referral is rated Red food a direct delivery of food within 24 hours through the LCC warehouse. If the referral is rated Amber or Green, it is shared with the nearest geographically Community Care Hub, who will provide support.
There are many options available to people through the system which could include a food parcel or e-shopping voucher. The food provided in food parcels is based on the food bank vouchers list which includes basic staple items i.e. cereal, bread, pasta, rice, tinned meat and vegetables, sauces, drinks and some fresh supplies. The parcels are reliant of food donations and supplies and aim to support families and individuals to achieve a healthy balanced diet. The size of the parcels provided is determined based on the number of people in the household and aims to provide food for 3 – 4 days.
E-shopping vouchers are also available to support specific dietary requirements and can be used to purchase basic staple items i.e. cereal, bread, pasta, rice, tinned or fresh meat and vegetables, sauces, drinks (no luxury items or brands) plus any baby food/nappies. If someone is isolating an e-voucher can be used by the Community Care Hub staff or volunteers to purchase specific items on the behalf of the recipient.
For people with no recourse to public funds or who are self-isolating, with no-one to support or shop for them, ongoing support will be provided. For other people
accessing the EFR system an eligibility criteria determines the length of support. Leeds City Council wants to ensure that free food provision is supplied to those who have a genuine need. Local Organisations can ask people to present themselves back through the helpline if they need any further support. This is then reviewed on a case by case basis.
Paid Food Process
Leeds City Council recognises that some people may find themselves in need of food and basic provisions due to ill-health or the requirement to isolate, but are able to pay for support. The EFR System includes E-Shopping Vouchers for people who can pay. This process involves people being billed retrospectively, for the amount spent. The amount billed is based on the normal shop costs/or how much the person would like to spend. Leeds City Council has redeployed members of staff who are acting in the capacity of Helpline Liaison Support with the Community Cares Hubs, to pass referrals and E-Shopping vouchers to. This staff group collates information in terms of whether the assigned referral has been completed.
Another option available to people who can pay involves utilising volunteers to pick up food from takeaways and restaurants, or to provide this information to people so that they can order themselves. A number of organisations across the city are providing collection or delivery of meals and hot food. A number of independent supermarkets, businesses and milkmen are also providing deliveries of food boxes. A list of local businesses providing food delivery has been summarised by the Food Wise Leeds. Food Wise Leeds is an unincorporated association that aims to celebrate good food and contribute to city priorities by; addressing health inequalities, reducing food poverty and insecurity, supporting local food businesses, reducing the environmental impact of the production, trade and consumption of food and promoting growing and cooking skills. Food Wise Leeds works inclusively with all sectors of the local food system, including producers, processors, caterers, retailers, outlets, education and community groups. The group is a current holder of the Suitable Food Places Bronze award and is working on an action plan to achieve the Silver award in 2021.
Figure 1 – Leeds EFR System overview
7.0 School Food support
Schools are still providing support for pupils eligible for a free school meal during school time and during school holidays. Schools are able to decide on how they support pupils during these circumstances. Schools can either provide meals to be collected daily, weekly food hampers or parcels, or provide supermarket vouchers. Some schools may provide a combination of both food and vouchers depending on the individual needs of families and capacity of catering departments.
In preparation for the necessity for schools to close, Leeds City Council’s catering team, Catering Leeds, put a plan in place to deliver 14,000 meals every day for means tested free school meal children (and families who are highlighted as vulnerable by headteachers). Catering Leeds look after 187 primary schools and two secondary schools across the city. Utilising 28 hubs across Leeds, distribution points for each of these schools have been established so their allocation of meals can be collected from these sites or delivered directly to them where this is proving hard to arrange. This provision includes catering for all children with a special dietary requirement. To begin with, vegetarian, cold ‘grab bag’ lunches were issued, followed by family hampers with a range of food items. Special diet children receive a meal which excludes all of the 14 main allergens and where necessary a bespoke meal will be put in place for complex dietary needs. Current figures show that until 29 May Catering Leeds have provided 82,339 daily grab bags and 19,536 weekly hampers. Whilst continuing to support SILC schools with hot food provision.
The remaining schools in Leeds use either a private catering provider or prepare meals inhouse. Staff from the Councils Early Help Hubs contacted all of schools to discuss the ongoing provision of Free School Meals for vulnerable children and young people and the arrangements they are making for the ongoing provision of free school meals and to offer support as necessary.
For schools that chose to sign up to the national voucher scheme, parents were entitled to a £15 weekly voucher, for each eligible child. This scheme is run by Eden Red on behalf of the Government and is optional for schools to use. The school is responsible for signing up to the scheme, and from there it will work one of two ways
- either the voucher will sent directly to a family over email and they can then show the code on their phone at the supermarket, or the school can arrange a bulk order of multiple codes and receive an excel spreadsheet to help schools organise sending on to a family, or create an eGift card for a preferred supermarket. Alternatively, for those families which do not have internet access, the school can send out paper copies in the post. Vouchers and were have continued to be available to support families during the Easter holidays and May half term. There were a significant number of technical issues with the Eden Red voucher scheme during set up which resulted in many families waiting for vouchers.
The Health and Wellbeing Service provided regular communication, advice and support to schools about free school meals and access to food to ensure schools were aware of how they can best support their pupils and families.
8.0 Homeless and Street support
Since April, the Leeds City Council, Public Health Team have been working with the Leeds Housing Options team and other partners to mobilise, organise and deliver food and other supplies to rough sleepers and other vulnerable people who have been accommodated in hotels and other properties due to COVID-19. So far these deliveries have been made to over 215 people in locations across Leeds.
This provision includes breakfast bags and lunches been delivered, along with a daily hot evening meal from the Council’s Community Meals Service. In addition ‘hygiene packs’ have been distributed, containing a range of items including soap, new socks and underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and sanitary products. Items such as anti-bacterial spray, washing detergent, sponges, along with activity packs (containing mindfulness colouring activities and various puzzle books) have been added to the scheme. Top-up products are delivered every fortnight to all temporary accommodation sites.
In addition to this provision through the Leeds Food Aid Network and the Leeds Homeless Charter work has been undertaken to ensure that Street Support Team groups do not go out on the Street to give out food. Instead groups have been asked to support the food offer put in place by providing snack bags for the hotels.
This currently involves 6 Grass Root Groups and is providing a positive alternative to handing out food on the street in the city centre.
9.0 Other activities We Care Leeds
The Leeds Food Aid Network partnered with We Care Leeds (WCL) to deliver food parcels across the city from Thursday 19th March to Friday 8th May. WCL was set up by local business leaders to deliver food boxes to vulnerable people on low income and older people, through utilising volunteers. Referrals (from workers and self-referrals) were taken by Leeds Food Aid Network and passed on to WCL. WCL also took their own referrals through their Facebook page. Through Leeds Food Aid Network there were 711 referrals made, to 599 different households. Not all of the information about the make-up of households was given, but according to the data provided, this included at least 617 adults and 420 children. The highest numbers of referrals were for LS9 (76), LS11 (65), LS12 (53) and LS8 (49). £30,000 was raised for the project from donations, and food was purchased or donated by local suppliers
/ shops. Leeds Food Aid Network volunteers made a further 25 deliveries during this time.
From the 9th of May to the 31st of May, Leeds Food Aid network have dealt with a further 102 referrals, where people have been signposted or referred on to: the Welfare Support Scheme and Trussell Trust, independent foodbanks, charitable and faith groups and volunteers.
For the past few years, Leeds has run a Healthy Holidays scheme to combat holiday hunger, inactivity and isolation. Initially, this was funded through a partnership between the Communities & Environments directorate in Leeds City Council and Leeds Community Foundation. The programme is managed by Leeds Community Foundation, who leverage additional funding from local funds such as Jimbo’s Fund and Department for Education project funding.
Last year, Leeds were funded by Communities & Environments, Leeds Community Foundation and the Department of Education Holidays & Activities Fund to run a successful Healthy Holidays scheme. Healthy Holidays supported 5,340 young people, with partners providing over 15.21 tonnes of intercepted food (equivalent to 4,375 trays/crates of food). The Healthy Holiday schemes estimated 66% of the children attending faced food insecurity in the holidays.
This year, Communities & Environments, Children & Families, Leeds Community Foundation and the Department of Education HAF are providing funding. This process has been disrupted by the pandemic. As a result, LCF has already funded 31 HH Leeds Covid-19 Response grants for Third Sector Organisations to provide food and safe activities to children and their families in lockdown. Leeds Community Foundation has secured additional funding from Direct Line and from the National Emergency Trust (NET) to support its Covid response. Some of this NET funding has been vital in sustaining Third Sector Organisations so that they remain operational and able to provide food and support to their local communities. A programme of activities and food provision will run from third sector organisations, schools and Community Hubs over the summer holidays.
FareShare have continued to support their existing 30 community project members with food to provide support across the city. During Covid-19 the FareShare membership fee has been waived and an additional 8 Third Sector Organisations are being supported which is anticipated to rise to include additional Healthy Holiday Provision. The majority of food being provided is to be used in Food Parcels but those Third Sector Organisations ’s who are still able to produce meals will be also be receiving chilled fresh and frozen product.
ReThink Food has supported 29 Community Groups and 21 schools during this time. The majority of food offered to ReThink Food has been provided to supply food parcels, with some being provided to organisations who have continued to provide meal provision. Schools who previously gave people access to food through a 'thoughtful donation' market stall are now providing food parcels. It is anticipate this will continue into the next academic year. ReThink Food also provides education resources which have now being tailored to support schools to provide food parcels and will work with schools with the aim of transitioning families from food parcels back to a market stall and then to independence.
The biggest shift in operations observed by the organisations has been the interception and redistribution of frozen food. Six projects that are part of the Healthy Holiday scheme in Leeds are initially taking part in a pilot to refine the process. This offer will be made more widely available after the conclusion of the pilot. Fareshare will be providing access to any offers of frozen food.
Trussell Trust (North West Food Bank)
During the last two weeks of March (16th - 29th) the North West Foodbank has provided 3 days food supplies for 984 people, this was an 84% increase on the numbers fed during the same period in 2019. The largest increase was seen in families referred with 91 families referred in those two weeks of 2020 as opposed to 35 families in 2019 in the same period. The most commonly cited referral reason was low income.
The data for April is slightly less robust as during this period an increasing number of referral agencies stopped face to face contact and clients were consequently arriving at the foodbank door without an official referral route. Some of the data was not fully captured but it appears the number of people fed was very similar approximately 1,100 compared to 1,157 in 2019. The numbers of families and single parents during April were broadly similar to those seen in 2019, with 95 families and 49 single parent families accessing support.
May saw the Trussell Trust move to a delivery only service with referrals being made online by agencies. During May 918, 3 day food supplies were given out which was actually around 100 less than the previous year with the numbers of families being similar to the previous year with 53 families and 60 single parent families accessing support.
The reduced figures overall this year are likely to be as a result of both the changes in operation and the relative easing of restrictions on the Local Welfare Support Scheme support as the council have been providing the wider EFR system support.
Other Food Aid Providers
Insight from the Leeds Food Aid Network has shown that many of the networks existing partners have continued to support people to access food. Many Churches and community projects have been providing food and meals from their bases or directly to people’s homes. The below offers a snapshot of some of this provision:
Unity in Poverty Action, who chair the Leeds Food Aid Network also chair the West Yorkshire Food Poverty Network. This brings together representatives from Leeds Food Aid Network, Feeding Bradford, Kirklees Food Providers Network, Wakefield Food Aid Network and Calderdale. This network is officially part of Feeding Britain which was established by former MP Frank Field. So far Feeding Britain has helped source £30,000 worth of stock for the 5 areas through Feeding purchasing from Brakes Food and His Church. Key donations have often come into Re-Think Food in Leeds and food has either been collected or distributed across the Region by the Leeds Rhino’s Foundation.
Leeds Rhinos Foundation
Leeds Rhinos Foundation staff volunteered to help with the Covid -19 pandemic as soon as lockdown began. The Foundation collaborated with 33 different school charities and food organisations 7 days a week. The Team have been working a busy schedule which includes over 30 different assignments per week. In particular, they have been working with the Leeds Food Aid Network to make food deliveries to homeless charities and working with Mecca Bingo Leeds to deliver over 150 hot and cold meals per week to St George Crypt for the homeless and local schools.
Close links have been forged with New Wortley Community Association where the Team have helped to make and deliver food parcels and deliver an ever - increasing number of hot meals.
Covering over 180 miles, Leeds Rhinos player Liam Sutcliffe joined the team to make over 60 treat packages for Community Integrated Care, these treat packages were subsequently delivered to 29 homes across Leeds.
As outlined above many other organisations in the city have supported the wider EFR response in Leeds in a variety of different ways. Many providers have adapted their current wider health and wellbeing offer and provision playing a vital role in the city’s effort to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. This ranges from Public Health commissioned services through to smaller organisations and community groups (e.g. those receiving small grants). Examples of this include;
The networks co-ordinating these activities have responded to additional needs alongside their emergency food provision.
Examples of this extra support are included in the information above, and it is worth highlighting some of the more significant needs that required an urgent response by Leeds partners:
The council have worked with a variety of partners to provide period products, baby products, condoms and incontinence products to those who require them. The Leeds Period Products scheme was created in 2019 in collaboration with young people, third, private, public, education and academic partners. Since the pandemic, it has provided products to schools, the Community Cares Hubs, Community Hubs, in food parcels through the Council’s central warehouse, and in hampers to families on Free School Meals through Catering Leeds. Condoms are also being distributed through the Council’s central warehouse and have been provided to Community Cares Hubs, and a network of support has been established to provide baby products through a partnership with Leeds Baby Bank. Questions are asked on the phone lines and the referral form to ascertain if individuals/ families are in need of these products.
Equally important has been the emotional and social support that network organisations have provided to people in local communities. These relationships provide a basis to connect people to other support that can help minimise their future reliance on food aid.
Third Sector Organisations have reported receiving requests for help from people who are wary of seeking help from statutory organisations for a variety of reasons (mistrust of statutory services, fear that their children might be removed if they ask for food assistance, stigma attached to statutory aid, etc.).
10.0 Current position
Evidence from the Food Foundation - Vulnerability to food insecurity since the COVID-19 lockdown preliminary report (2020) highlights that the number of adults who are food insecure in the Britain is estimated to have quadrupled under the COVID-19 lockdown. The report concluded that:
This evidence is mirrored in Leeds, emerging evidence and themes being discussed by people accessing support in Leeds has identified:
11.0 Lessons learned
Co-ordinating the local food system
Whilst it is strongly acknowledged that the food insecurity partnership working in the city has been fundamental to the development of the EFR system, this did pose short term challenges in the planning phases of the response, considering how best to upscaling food support and support partners to utilise the Emergency Food Response System as a one point of access to support food needs. Leeds benefits from a thriving and responsive Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector who already provide food aid support or started to respond to the local needs for food in light of Covid-19. Working in such a fast paced environment led to partners delivering a wide range of food projects i.e. supporting with food parcels, shopping, meal provision and delivery, which did lead to early duplication, confusion for the frontline
workforce making referrals for people who required food access and added pressure on local supply chains. This was quickly rectified through citywide promotion of the EFR System and the Community Care Hub retrieving information on food projects across the 33 wards in the city. The Food Aid Network reported that they were extremely busy with requests, especially for the first couple of weeks of lockdown, giving signposting and advice to workers and individuals who were unsure where to turn which highlights that people see the network as a point of contact and source of information.
Additional Covid-19 safety requirements have been put in place at each stage of the EFP (e.g. social distancing at the warehouse facilities, additional safety guidance provided when food parcels and meals are collected or delivered).
Managing Food Supply
Food supplies to support the EFR system have been obtained from a variety of sources as outlined above. Working at great pace to establish the Emergency Food Response system did present initial challenges in accessing a wide range of foods. Challenges included:
In regards to the use of fresh food, discussions amongst partners in the city explored the potential of mobilising a community kitchen to make best use of this food. However many projects already had ample supplies of food or were already operating a meal provision service. Instead the EFR System responded to this challenge by prioritising the use of fresh food for 24 hour deliveries, whilst ensuring a mix of fresh and ambient foods was available via Community Care Hubs and Third Sector Organisations. The learning from this exploration will be helpful to inform meal provision support if required at any point in the future, i.e. in the event of a second peak Covid-19.
Accessing large quantities of ambient foods was initially a challenge. However working FareShare and ReThink Food have been fundamental to supporting the ongoing food availability via the EFR System. The EFR system has benefitted from extra food from the food industry and DEFRA donated to FareShare Furthermore Leeds City Council has allocated funds to ensure that ambient food supplies remained available. A mixed food sourcing strategy has been key (surplus, donation, purchasing) to ensure supply is consistent during the different stages of the outbreak.
Meeting Dietary needs
The EFR referral form identifies if people have any allergies, dietary or cultural requirements. As the food provided is dependent on donations and supplies available from the warehouse, tailored food parcels to meet a variety of requirements are not available. The parcels aim to provide a variety of products which can help individuals and families to make basic meals and should include some items that are suitable for all. Where food cannot be provided to meet the dietary needs vouchers will be considered.
Support for the EFR system included dietetics input, to seek assurance and guidance of the processes that were put in place to meet dietary requirements. It also became clear that there was a need for a Vegetarian food parcel and greater access to cultural foods.
In May, LCC established a Cultural Food Hub to help and support people with access to food which meets their cultural needs. The Cultural Food Hub is tasked with purchasing food to meet diverse needs and to work with organisations providing food support across the city.
Responding to Ongoing Need
The economic implications of Covid-19 mean that Leeds partners anticipate continue food support will be required for a considerable time to come. Leeds partners are working together to provide associated support to enable people to access relevant support (e.g. debt management advice, healthy meal recipes, mental health support from community groups, etc) in order to minimise this where possible.
It is very evident that the EFR System sits within a larger EFR response including input from a wide range of partners. Initial discussions are progressing to consider how best to co-ordinate and utilise mapping of provision across the Third Sector Organisations, Community Care Hubs, Schools and existing food aid providers to ensure that people can access the right support at the right time and for the right length of time. In addition, the creation of a city wide coordinated food offers system to link businesses, donors and suppliers with distributors and Third Sector Organisations is being explored to support food insecurity work longer term.
The requirement to support people in Leeds to access food and other basic provision has grown substantially in light of COVID-19. The Emergency Food Response system developed has been able to and continues to support people in a range of different ways, in consideration to a range of needs identified. This system has benefitted significantly from the existing food insecurity infrastructure in the city and the strength of partnership working amongst a range of organisations. Without this pro-active collaborative working Leeds City Council and partners would not have been able to respond to the challenges of food insecurity presented at this time with the pace, flexibility and resources utilised. Thank you to all partners who have supported the Emergency Food Response.