By Sarah Avery, Family Space manager
Let me tell you something about #FeedCheltenham, let me tell you how the churches, schools, charities, organisations and people of Cheltenham made a difference when it was needed most through the COVID -19 pandemic. On March 19th 2020 5 people sat in a room to discuss ‘how can the Christian organisations across Cheltenham respond to the impending crisis?’
We knew people would have problems with hunger and feeding their families. Shops were already taken over with panic buyers. Organisations throughout Cheltenham were approached to see if they wanted to be on board with a joint venture to meet the hunger needs of those across Cheltenham. Having gotten a great expression of interest across churches, charities and schools wanting to sign up to a part of what is now called #FeedCheltenham, we knew we could do more together than we can apart.
Feed Cheltenham launched a Crowd Funder page with a target £25,000. We made a video of supporters, including Tweedy the Clown, with church leaders across the town giving their support.
One of the first families helped with #FeedCheltenham vouchers was a lady who was unable to go shopping due to COVID-19 . She says, “Me and my 2 children were living on cereal all over Easter until #FeedCheltenham sent someone to shop for me and provided money for food. My cupboards were empty. I’m in the vulnerable category and can’t go out. My free school meal vouchers aren’t coming through.”
Facts and Figures from Feed Cheltenham (as of November 2020)
#FeedCheltenham have paid for £29,000 worth of meals given out by the Long Table. This is over half of the meals that went out this way.
£106,000 has been raised for #FeedCheltenham through Crowd Funder, trusts, grants and individual giving.
£102,000 in total has been spent by #FeedCheltenham.
4125 vouchers have been given out to households across Cheltenham.
Average spend of £4,000 a week on supermarket vouchers and meals through the Long Table.
What is #FeedCheltenham doing now?
Over the summer holidays #FeedCheltenham began to work with Cheltenham Borough Council, Wiggly Worm and The Sober Parrot to provide 1200 meals to children in receipt of free school meals and those needing help and support. Gloucestershire County Council awarded #FeedCheltenham the £500 allocated to each of the 10 local county counsellors to give the children in receipt of free school meals an opportunity to have hot school meals. This was supplemented by the Mayor of Cheltenham’s food bank fund and a great partnership began to form.
#FeedCheltenham is beginning to work more and more with food pantries and food support agencies across Cheltenham supplementing donations with money to top up fresh supplies for families to come and choose the produce they want. #FeedCheltenham is working with the food pantries that are popping up over the town.
We are also continuing to provide meals to families through partnership with schools, charities, organisations, churches, increasing connections and networking across town.
What happens next?
The need for food help is not going away and we still don’t know how long this is going to be a pressing issue for our town. From what we know, the organisations we work with have not seen the demand for support and help drop and Christmas is always a time of pressure for families and households.
What I would want to say to all the people reading this that it is ok to ask for help if you are struggling. Another day it may be you that is in a position to give the help, but if you need help and support at the moment then don’t be afraid to ask for it. Those running the food support agencies know the anxieties that not having enough food can bring, they are not here to bring judgment but want to offer a sense of hope. We know from experience that if you can give someone food, you ease myriad anxieties. No children or adults in Cheltenham should be going hungry, there is a lot help and support out there. Please have a look at the leaflet to see how you can access this support if you need it.
What do those who have been helped say?
These times are heightening my anxiety. Last week I couldn’t get out of bed for 2 days, I’m having panic attacks thinking about going out to the shop. I’m grateful for the support #FeedCheltenham is giving me at this time”Mum
“I wanted to drop you a line to thank you and everyone involved in issuing the vouchers. They have made a big difference to us especially as at the start of this pandemic we had started to notice our weekly shopping bill increasing and that was without buying extra and then with schools becoming closed we we’re concerned of the impact the rising cost of food would have on us as a family, as you can probably imagine as a family of 6 our food bill is a big outgoing on our household.”Family provided with a #FeedCheltenham Voucher
Thank you so much for setting up #FeedCheltenham and for the support you are providing to families at Hesters Way School, as well as to so many others. Today our headteacher described #FeedCheltenham as ‘amazing’ and we are very grateful that families can be nominated each week. It is a brilliant way of providing much needed help directly to those in the most need at this challenging time. Best wishes and massive thanks again for everything you and the team are doing including, above and beyond #FeedCheltenhamHelen Sexton, chair of Governors
Lastly I just want to say a huge thank you to our partners in #FeedCheltenham, to everyone who has donated, shopped, cooked, supported and worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Thank you to all the food support agencies across Cheltenham who are working to get food and meals out. My huge thanks to you all, this is a partnership effort. Coming back to why #FeedCheltenham was started, we can do more together than we can apart; we can share resources, learning and relationships to give food support to the residents of Cheltenham who need it.
Please don’t stop giving to #FeedCheltenham where you can. We don’t know what January 2021 will bring for Covid and our town, so let’s keep working together to bring hope.