The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted and exacerbated many of the injustices in British society — at the intersection of race, age, class, and gender. In London, where community groups and organisations have been massively overstretched after a decade of austerity, the situation over the last seven months has been especially difficult. One way for Londoners to actively help is by supporting the city’s food system.
The most recent data from the Mayor’s Office reveals that unemployment in London was at 5.3 percent, up from 4.7 percent in May. Claims for benefits, including a sharp uptick in Universal Credit, rose by 165 percent since March — with workers aged 25 to 29 seeing the largest year-on-year increase in claims, by 246 percent. (All age groups in London experienced a larger proportional increase than their U.K. counterparts.) Across the country, 1.4 million children are among the most vulnerable, after the government voted against extending the provision of free school meals through October half term and the Christmas holidays. Footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to prevent children from going hungry until at least Easter next year has earned the support of local councils, community organisations, and a growing number of London restaurants — all of whom are now stepping in where the state has stepped back.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which has seen 80 percent of furloughed workers’ wages covered by the government since March, has provided those in work before the crisis with some security through it. But when the scheme concludes at the end of October, some fear it could lead to a 10 percent unemployment rate in the U.K. The CJRS will be replaced with the Job Support Scheme from 1 November, enhanced last week after widespread criticism, but unable on its own to avoid what Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called an “economic catastrophe” and “looming unemployment crisis” in the capital. Such outcomes will further strain the community service organisations working to support those in need across London.
At the beginning of lockdown, in a single week in March, over 1,500 local mutual aid groups were set up across the U.K., with tens of thousands volunteering to support the most vulnerable in society with the provision of food, shopping, and medicine. In May, the Independent Food Aid Network reported a 177 percent increase in the number of emergency food parcels distributed by food banks year on year. Research by the Trussell Trust in September found that food bank use could rise so steeply by Christmas that six emergency food parcels could be handed out every minute. Elsewhere, coordinated efforts, supported by furloughed chefs with access to dormant kitchens, have worked to supply thousands of fresh meals a week to frontline workers and NHS staff.
After full lockdown eased, a semblance of normality resumed for many Londoners on the streets of the capital, but a rise in infections and new restrictions are likely to once again hit those communities worst affected in the spring, the hardest — a crisis that will worsen through the winter and well into 2021. Editors have done their best to vet the charities and initiatives included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organisation you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because those organisations usually know where the greatest need is at any given time.
Mutual Aid Groups
Mutual aid groups are usually politicised community organisations, which exist “to meet their own needs, outside of the formal frameworks of charities, NGOs and government.” They have reemerged around the world during the pandemic, with groups assembling en masse across the U.K. and in London since lockdown — as members of local communities joined together to respond to an unprecedented crisis. This dedicated resource can be used to search for all of the U.K.’s mutual aid groups, and below is a selection of organisations helping to provide food assistance and other resources and support across London:
Who Is Hussain: A London-wide mutual aid group of volunteers who distribute hot meals, fruit, snacks, water bottles, and food parcels, including vegetarian specific packages, to homeless Londoners and others in need. Volunteers can take part in local charitable events, food drives, and can join the London team by signing up here.
Waltham Forest Mutual Aid: This northeast London-based mutual aid group prepares meals (around 1000 per week) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in partnership with GMG Gurdwara. Different wards (find one here) within the borough take on different projects: partnerships with local takeaway businesses, move-ins to local kitchens, ‘cook for your neighbour’ schemes, and plans are afoot to to establish new community kitchen spaces. To join, email or join the Facebook group. Donations for a new platform called ‘Open Collective’, which supports all projects working to feed the communities in Waltham Forest via Food for the Forest, can be made now.
Lewisham Covid 19 Mutual Aid: The first of a raft of new London mutual aid groups set up to organise a dedicated community response to the coronavirus pandemic and support the most vulnerable and isolated. Join the Facebook group for regular updates on local initiatives, find advice for volunteer opportunities, seek safety advice, or join local WhatsApp groups.
Camden Mutual Aid: This Facebook group was set up to help coordinate support in the borough of Camden, aiming to help people access food, and complete errands — particularly those who are elderly, disabled, and/or immunocompromised. A document with contacts, ward information, resources, alliances, and links to Camden Council support can be accessed here.
Tower Hamlets Covid 19 Community Support: A Facebook group set up for Tower Hamlets residents looking to help each other throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is designed to support those who are elderly, disabled, and/or immunocompromised with access to food. Local WhatsApp groups can be found here.
Hackney Mutual Aid Group: This Facebook group was set up to organise community support in response to the pandemic, including food provision for the homeless. An extensive list of contact details for all groups in every Hackney ward can be found here.
The Field / Pie n Mash Mutual Aid Project: Set up to support refugee networks and various established grassroots community projects that serve the most vulnerable in southeast London communities. Donations will be directed towards buying food and other items for distribution. It also welcomes donations of goods and PPE. Join the organisation’s WhatsApp group via this link.
Ealing Together: A collaboration between local community and voluntary groups, Ealing Council, and other public services and residents to help during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future. It has published a guide for community groups who want to volunteer in the community and details where to make donations.
Food relief organisations have always been heavily dependent on committed volunteers to help maintain the infrastructure needed to carry out their work. With significant job cuts predicted, rising food poverty, and greater strain on the health services, the need now is even more prevalent. Eater has compiled a list of volunteer opportunities within food banks, food surplus redistribution services, and delivery services to frontline workers and those immunocompromised. Here’s how to get involved.
Bonny Downs Community Association: A community-led charity that has been serving the residents of East Ham since 1998 includes a food bank, which is in urgent need of volunteers and monetary donations.
Feeding Britain: This charity distributes hot meals and food packages for families on low incomes. Feeding Britain says a donation of just £10 can purchase the equivalent of 30 meals for a family in need. Opportunities are available for volunteers, too.
Deliver Aid: Deliver Aid raises public donations and partners with cafes and restaurants which can use their skills and supply chains to supply nourishing meals to NHS workers. Sign up if you’re a cafe or restaurant that can produce a minimum of 25 meals a day for £5 each, and have the means to deliver to local hospitals.
Fare Share: Fare Share fights hunger and tackles food waste by redistributing food industry surplus to charities that turn it into meals for people who need them most. Volunteer by signing up or donating online.
The Trussell Trust: The Trussell Trust supports over 1,200 food bank centres across the U.K. to provide emergency food and support to people in poverty while also campaigning to end the need for food banks. Visit the volunteer page to find out what critical help they currently need.
Castle Food Service: Part of the National Food Service, this north London initiative has been providing a free vegetarian or vegan meal and grocery provision service since the COVID-19 outbreak. It aims to feed “local people who are, for whatever reason, in need,” working out of the Castle Climbing Centre. To get involved email email@example.com or call 0208 706 0970.
The Felix Project: The Felix Project tackles food waste and hunger by redistributing nutritious food industry surplus to vulnerable people through partner charities. Sign up here to help pack and distribute the essential surplus.
Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara (GMGG): GMGG runs a food support programme across London in the form of a central community kitchen which offers free food to those in need. Find out more about volunteer roles here.
London Coronavirus Volunteers: London Coronavirus Volunteers delivers groceries in a sanitary environment to elderly people in London isolating or struggling to get out themselves. Volunteer to deliver via its Facebook page.
City Harvest: This charity organisation collects and redistributes nutritious food industry surplus to 300 affiliates that feed vulnerable people across London. Sign up online to volunteer.
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organisations
In the last five years, food banks and soup kitchens have seen a vast increase in people dependent on their services. During the pandemic, many have understandably lost volunteers, had to temporarily close their doors and/or alter their models to stem the spread of COVID-19 — putting greater strain on these services at a time of vastly increased need. The Trussell Trust, a network of food banks across the U.K., reported an 81 percent increase (including a 122 percent rise in parcels given to children) in the need for emergency food parcels during the last two weeks of March 2020, compared to the same period last year. It has recently warned that demand at Christmas time could mean as many as six food parcels needing to be issued every minute. Below is a list of organisations Eater has confirmed are currently operating, but people looking for other opportunities to help can find a full list of soup kitchens at The Pavement and an extensive list of food banks on the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network websites.
Give Food: An online resource, which uses a postcode search function to highlight the specific items required by food banks right across the U.K. The database can also be searched by parliamentary constituency.
The Trussell Trust: Fundraise or donate to the Trussell Trust and help in its mission to support 1,200 food bank centres provide emergency food and support to people in poverty.
Newham Food Banks: Of all London boroughs, increases in benefit claims have been highest in Newham, east London — rising by 17,700 on last year. Volunteer or donate at the Trussell Trust-affiliated Newham Food Bank, The Renewal Programme (for refugees and migrants), or Churches food bank (345 Romford Road, Forest Gate, E7 8AA.) For an extensive list of resources in Newham, use this online directory.
North Paddington Food Bank: Make a monetary donation or do a food shop for The North Paddington Food Bank that provides critical hunger relief to the communities of Maida Hill, Paddington, and North Kensington.
Eat or Heat: Walthamstow’s Eat or Heat provides hunger relief to those in need across E17. Make a cash donation to ensure the critical work of the charity can continue, or donate requested food to support the people who rely on the service, including children from local schools through the summer holidays.
First Love Foundation: Donate to the First Love Foundation that provides money, food, and wider support to people in crisis in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. This food bank has seen a 700 percent increase in clients during the pandemic.
Castlehaven Food Bank Appeal: Food bank use in Camden has increased by 250 percent during the pandemic and is set to rise with further predicted job losses. Donate to help the Castlehaven Food Bank Appeal reach its £7,000 target to buy food for people in need in the borough.
Norwood and Brixton Food Bank: Donate money or food to Norwood and Brixton Food Bank, an initiative which serves the communities of Brixton, south Lambeth, and north Croydon.
Soup Kitchens and Shelters
The Soup Kitchen London: This Tottenham Court Road-based soup kitchen provides a safe space and warm meal to homeless people in London, but has lost both volunteers and funding due to COVID-19; it has been forced to change its model from sit-down meals to a takeaway service. Donate clothing, food, or money so that it can continue to offer the service that many homeless Londoners have been forced to rely on.
The Brixton Soup Kitchen: Provides hunger relief, a safe space, and legal support to people in need in south London. While its physical space is currently closed due to COVID-19, making a donation will support the organisation’s work as the after-effects of the pandemic are felt most acutely by those who were forced to rely on it before.
American International Church Soup Kitchen: Donating to the American International Church will ensure the organisation can continue to provide food, clothes, support — both mental health and legal — and a safe space to the homeless, elderly, and lonely in London.
FAST58: This Christian soup kitchen provides up to 200 hot meals for the homeless on the Strand and Waterloo in central London, and is looking for volunteers to assist with food preparation, transport, and food distribution for its Friday outreach. Email the Fast58 organisers to volunteer or make a donation online.
Food for All: A fully volunteer-run food relief charity based in central London which currently provides 5,000 free meals a day to community groups, food banks, and for those on the streets without accommodation. Sign-up to volunteer in the kitchen, to assist with deliveries, on-street distribution, or remote support online.
Havering Islamic Cultural Centre Soup Kitchen: A soup kitchen in east London serving hot meals for the homeless every Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m., which is taking donations via email.
Muswell Hill Churches & Community Soup Kitchen: Located and administered at the Baptist Church, this soup kitchen is staffed by volunteers from several local churches, other faith groups, and the wider community. The kitchen itself closed in March but is running an off-site delivery service each Sunday on request. Anyone wishing to volunteer time or donate food and/or money can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Organisations Providing Food Access
A Plate for London: Throughout lockdown, this charity provided 15,000 meals to Londoners suffering from food poverty. Founders Dominic Cools-Lartigue and Bejay Mulenga are continuing their work and have joined up with councils and food hubs across London to get nutritious meals to those who need them most. Donate here or learn more about volunteering to help get meals to children and families in London here.
Community Food Enterprise: This social enterprise collects surplus food and redistributes meals, snacks, or food parcels to the elderly, homeless, those with mental health conditions, refugees and asylum seekers, families, and children — in east London. CFE is in need of tinned fruit, cereal, coffee, cooking oils, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Volunteers can email Eric Samuel to offer time or food, while monetary donations can be made online.
North London Action for the Homeless: A Stoke Newington-based charity that runs a drop-in centre for the homeless and in-need, which (as of October 2020) is currently accepting donations of tinned chopped tomatoes, olive oil, rice (5kg bags), instant coffee, and UHT milk. To donate, please email the organisers.
London Street Food Bank: A co-operative of volunteers who collect and distribute non-perishable foods for low income or non-income families. Also includes a group of volunteers who collect daily leftover food from retail food outlets and redistributes them to those without accommodation on the streets of London. Email to volunteer or make donations.
Hubb Community Kitchen: Munira Mahmud, a survivor of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, set up this community kitchen at the Al-Manaar Cultural Heritage Centre in 2017 to cater for survivors and the wider North Kensington community. In the winter, homeless guests are also served warm food and breakfast in the canteen. To find out how to help or make donations, email the centre at email@example.com or buy the cookbook, Together, which Mahmud and the community kitchen published in 2018.
Community Comfort: A digital recipe book compiled by author and activist Riaz Phillips which features entries from over 100 cooks and writers from diasporic communities across the U.K. It is available to download for a minimum donation of £10 and will donate all proceeds to the Majonzi COVID-19 Bereavement Fund in collaboration with the Ubele Initiative, set up by Windrush campaigner and cultural historian Patrick Vernon to support the communities disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus crisis. Read more here.
Hackney Migrant Centre: This east London charity works to support refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants in need through the provision of free advice on immigration, welfare and health, and food relief. While the drop-in centre is closed due to the pandemic, it needs local volunteers who have a car to help collect food donations on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. Applications for volunteering and monetary donations can be made online
Refugee Solidarity South East: A community network which supports refugees and asylum seekers during the the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. It is now fundraising to deliver food packages directly to families and individuals — and distributing food through partner organisations, including Lewisham and Refugee Migrant Network, LewCAS, Southwark Refugee Day Centre, and World for Hope.
Stories and Supper: An east London-based social enterprise that wants to challenge negative perceptions of migrants in London. Run by a community of refugees, migrants, and volunteers, it operates a welcoming space for weekly drop-ins, and puts on regular events, including supper clubs. Donations to support the work can be made online.
Worker Relief and Restaurants and Cafes Offering Food Aid
Since lockdown was lifted and restaurants begun to reopen, some hospitality workers have been able to slowly return to work. But because of new restrictions, the majority of businesses are trading beneath pre-crisis levels and those employees who’ve been retained are being asked to work fewer hours. The government’s new Job Support Scheme is designed to prevent mass redundancies and mitigate wage losses of those staff returning on reduced hours. Regardless, thousands of jobs have been lost and the full effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry are unlikely to be felt until the end of the year and into 2021. While there are few active fundraising initiatives being carried out by or for restaurant workers since reopening, there are initiatives to support which aid hospitality workers, advertise vacancies, and provide critical supplies and resources to those still in need and active on the frontline in London.
London restaurants supporting Marcus Rashford’s free school meal initiative: Including groups like Bao, Padella, Bleecker Burger, and Chick n Sours; Clerkenwell’s The Quality Chop House; Dalston pub The Duke of Richmond; Borough Market’s Mei Mei; Old Spitalfields Market’s Dumpling Shack; Ealing’s Maryam’s Kitchen; and Turkish restaurant Mangal 2 in Dalston.
Hospitality Action: Since the COVID-19 outbreak, this charity organisation focused on emergency fundraising to support hospitality workers in immediate crisis with emergency payments of £250 per household. It is continuing to use funds raised to support hospitality workers to recover from the impact of the pandemic. Donations can be made online.
Countertalk: This events and talks programme run by pastry chef Ravneet Gill says aims to revolutionise the food world through empowered community. On Instagram, it is also now posting vacant hospitality roles across London as businesses begin to reopen.
Deliver Aid: Deliver Aid raises public donations and partners with London restaurants and their supply chains to supply nourishing meals to NHS workers. Sign up if you’re a cafe or restaurant that can produce a minimum of 25 meals a day for £5 each, and have the means to deliver to local hospitals.
The Gleaners at Hornbeam Cafe: Participants in the National Food Service initiative, The Gleaners is a cooperatively run, pay-what-you-feel community cafe based at the Hornbeam Centre in Walthamstow cooking simple food from surplus ingredients. It is now part of the Covid-19 Community food distribution centre, providing free essential groceries and meals. Contact the owners directly to get involved.
Eggs and Bread: This small social enterprise in Wood Street, Walthamstow provides a place open to all, providing a pay-as-you-like basic cooked breakfast of boiled egg and soldiers, and a hot drink. Further details on how to support can be found online.
Surplus Canteen: This community kitchen operates out of Southwyck House, Brixton with the Healthy Living Platform to support community chefs, co-ordinate volunteers, and transition to decarbonised local food systems. It provides hot meals and grocery packages for disabled and neurodiverse people in the area, as well as self-isolating, shielded, and low-income families in an area of what it describes as “particularly extreme food poverty.” To find out how to get involved, call 07876 237914 on Thursdays or Fridays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thattukada: One of East Ham’s outstanding Kerala restaurants provided free meals to the community during the pandemic; outside of the crisis, owners Priti and Biju Gopinath always work to serve the communities of East London.
Second Shot Coffee: This East London coffee shop wants to change perceptions of homelessness. It employs people who have been affected by homelessness, trains them, and transitions them on to long term employment elsewhere. Customers can use Second Shot’s pay-it-forward system to provide free food and drink for someone without the means later on.
The Canvas Cafe: A vegan café in Shoreditch that serves freshly prepared food to our to those in need in the borough of Tower Hamlets. It supports grassroots projects to grow and create positive change in the city. Donations for its coronavirus appeal can be made via its website.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Contact us at email@example.com.