The schemes work on the basis of membership. Each household pays £1 annually to join and then pays £3.50 a week to gain access to the food parcels which contain around £15 worth of fresh nutritious food for each member. Larger families have the option of buying more than one pack. These are collected at a specific 15-minute time slot once a week from the collection points run by the club co-ordinator and volunteers.
Currently the FOOD clubs are seeing a massive increase in need. They have been performing really well for the last 18 months with membership increasing steadily. However, since April and the onset of the food and fuel crisis, MDC have seen a huge rise in referrals and are now receiving on average 3 referrals per club per week. Obviously, 21 additional families or individuals each week requiring FOOD club support is significant. In general, MDC are seeing more signs of poverty out in the community and are providing emergency food parcels more regularly. In addition, they are finding some people are struggling so much that they cannot afford the £3.50 a week membership fee, and this means additional flexibility is required.
The FOOD clubs have a significant impact on the community in several ways. Members like the independence that membership gives and prefer that they are paying for their food. The schemes mean that the members are still in control of their food budget and what they purchase within their £3.50 each week.
Dominic Ayton, Health and Wellbeing Officer, MDC says “We do get comments from people saying ‘thank you, it’s been a life-saver’”.
“At the same time, the FOOD clubs provide regular contact with our most vulnerable communities. Having the clubs there, every single week, you create relationships. You have that contact with people and you become known in these communities, which sometimes can be really hard to get into. Members of these communities might have a distrust of authority or establishments, but through the clubs we’ve really been able to build bridges.”
FOOD Club Members include refugees such as people from the Ukraine and Afghanistan, a lot of single men and local families, in particular large families. Sandra Alvey, Healthy Lifestyle Officer, MDC & Family Action Coordinator says “what is great about the FOOD clubs and FareShare food is that we can offer a little bit more to those families”.
The schemes have also benefited the community through the HAF (Holiday Activities and Food Programmes) that have been running. MDC are on their third round of holiday provision, supporting families who are on free school meals during the holidays, when it is hard to buy food or pay for childcare. The HAF provision has been gradually increasing each holiday period. Recently, even in areas that it had been difficult to grow engagement, attendance has been reaching maximum capacity. Over the recent Easter Holidays HAF reached participation of 350 children, the highest total so far.
The excellent relationships built between MDC and FareShare through the FOOD clubs provision has resulted in MDC using FareShare for their HAF this time and Dominic says “it worked amazingly – it was absolutely brilliant! It’s the best food provision we’ve done during HAF. In terms of impact, we found during the last two holiday periods, some of the kids were very fussy with the food; some of them were going home not really eating much – which is the exact opposite of what HAF should be. But this time, we had people coming up for seconds and thirds, and we had children coming that ate a lot more than they had done in previous holiday periods.”
During the recent HAF fortnight, the team (who are all ex school caterers) did some very basic cooking – which was well-received by the children. Sandra says “one day it was beans on toast, scrambled egg on toast or cheese on toast, and the kids absolutely loved it”. The team also cooked their own pizzas and quiches on the premise, which went down a storm.
In respect of the FOOD clubs, MDC have found that in certain areas, people don’t cook from raw ingredients, it’s all takeaways and ready meals. If the FOOD clubs do offer ingredients, members often don’t know what to make with them. MDC have just got funding through Family Action to start a ‘Families, Food and Fun’ project for some of the FOOD clubs. This will involve putting a set of ingredients in a box, together with a recipe, and encouraging members to take the food home and cook ‘what’s in the box’.
MDC feels there are many benefits to its Community Food Membership of FareShare Midlands. As the food that FareShare provides would otherwise go to landfill, that supports MDC’s environmental priorities. Being able to purchase the boxes of food from the FOOD clubs at such a low cost is a great financial benefit for residents.
A lot of local families and individuals are on Universal Credit, and through that MDC offers budgeting and additional initiatives, such as pay 4 weeks in advance on receipt of UC, thereby guaranteeing food on the table for 4 weeks. MDC are trying to get people to be more financially aware and it is working. Over the past 12 months many members who originally felt they couldn’t afford FOOD club membership are now planning their finances, and putting the money aside, as they feel it is such a great deal and such good quality food.
Finally, providing the food from FareShare is the initial step or opportunity for MDC to have a conversation with a person who is struggling. It’s the chance to find out what’s going on with them, discover what the wider issues are, and how to work with them to address these. It brings people back every week, as a captive audience. MDC are working towards wraparound care in respect of the wider issues that are causing food insecurity. This might involve offering budgeting advice, bringing credit unions into the FOOD clubs and setting up savings accounts, working with organisations like Citizens Advice to have debt advice workers in some settings.