East of England Co-op steps up support for food justice and young carers

It has joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce and is hosting a Food Justice Conference in November

East of England Co-operative is stepping up its continued support for food justice after the society revealed its members and customers donated five tonnes of foodbank essentials during its holiday hunger campaign. The society has joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce initiated by footballer Marcus Rashford and has also announced a Food Justice Conference to take place in November. 

The society is the largest independent retailer in East Anglia, with over 230 branches across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. During a six-week campaign run throughout the summer holidays, 22 East of England stores stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex supported 24 foodbanks in the region as they try to cope with surging demand for their vital services.

Customers were encouraged to donate essentials at their local store, which were then distributed to those local foodbanks in greatest need.

Following this campaign, the East of England Co-op now plans a virtual Food Justice Conference on 17-18 November where participants will discuss the challenges that lie ahead for foodbanks and other organisations striving for food justice, to understand how they can further help reduce food poverty.

Approximately 4.2 million children were living in poverty in the UK prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and this number is expected to have risen recently.

Supporting the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, the society backs recommendations from the National Food Strategy, an independent review of UK food policy, and calls for government funding to expand free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent, expand a school holiday food and activities programme to support all children on free school meals in all areas of England, and increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers.

East of England Co-op has written to local MPs, encouraging them to call upon the Government to act and support the increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers. Its has also pledged to fund the £1.15 difference in its stores until there is a change in policy.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the huge amount of support for our holiday hunger campaign and are extremely grateful, both to our members and customers for their generosity,” said Niall O’Keeffe, East of England Co-op joint chief executive.

He said that the five tonnes of food, toiletries and essential items donated over six weeks in the summer was three tonnes more than the society collected last summer. 

Some of the East of England donations heading to local food banks

“This demonstrates the increased awareness of the crucial role of foodbanks, who throw a lifeline to the most vulnerable in our society every day,” he added. “However, there remains a very long road ahead; it’s essential that we all help these amazing organisations and their selfless volunteers to ensure that families and individuals don’t go without.

“As a local community retailer, we will continue to support our local foodbanks and those in need in our communities with the aim of achieving food justice. We are proud to support Marcus Rashford as part of his Child Food Poverty Taskforce – it’s an issue that we feel incredibly passionate about and plan to fund the much-needed increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers in our stores until there’s a change in government policy.”

Supporting its local community

As a co-operative, each year East of England Co-op invests part of its profits to support communities across their trading area. In-light of the current pandemic, the society has rerouted funding to the recently launched East of England Co-op Community Cares Fund, which will support local groups and services in-need at this time.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the East of England Co-op has donated £80,000 to local foodbanks to support families in food poverty under an emergency package of support launched to help community groups and services across the region through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It has also been supporting other organisations in the region to combat food poverty with donations, including the Teapot Project in Suffolk, which  received £1,600 to help fund the building of a cold room to store food rescued from waste for redistribution to those in need, and the Suffolk Baby Bank, which used £2,250 to enable the distribution of store vouchers supporting the rising number of families in crisis due to Covid-19. ·

Copleston High School in Ipswich received £7,350 in vouchers to support families in need and the Ipswich Academy, Suffolk received £300 in funding towards breakfast club items and opening provision to the whole school which is in an officially recognised area of deprivation.

Supporting young unpaid carers

The society’s Community Cares Fund is also helping to provide support to unpaid carers in its region, including both adult and young carers, some only four years of age.

There are almost 270,000 unpaid carers in the East of England region, including 50,000 young carers, who have been faced with new challenges in the face of Coronavirus. The latest grant of £57,000 will support eight projects across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, providing support and respite, including a new part-time post at Suffolk Family Carers to alleviate the stress of overwhelming paperwork to help unpaid carers obtain and retain the benefits they are entitled to. 

The society is supporting a new part-time post at Suffolk Family Carers

A survey, carried out in July 2020 by Carers Trust, found that 67% of the young carers surveyed were more worried about the future, with 69% feeling less connected to others and 40% saying their mental health had worsened in recent months.

“This past year has been difficult for many, with social distancing and shielding, working from home and lockdown removing the opportunity to spend time with family and friends,” said Mr O’Keeffe.

“For those with additional caring responsibilities, lockdown measures have compounded the feeling of isolation. With Coronavirus very much still impacting our daily lives, we felt it important to ensure that those who are doing so much for others, get access to the support they need personally, and we are therefore delighted to support this initiative.”