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At The Solidarity Britannia Food Bank

May 3, 2020
by Delwar Hussain

Anthropologist and Writer Delwar Hussain spoke to Lynda Ouazar who has been a running a food bank for some of the most needy people in London. Click here to support Lynda’s work

Portrait by Sarah Ainslie

Since the lockdown was announced five weeks ago, Lynda Ouazar and the network of volunteers she has assembled have been feeding hundreds of people, many of whom were starving and homeless. Working from a small community centre in Shoreditch, her team have packed up bags of fresh vegetables, pasta, lentils, cans of tuna, bread, flour, onions, potatoes, cooking oil, tea and coffee. Volunteer motorbike drivers delivered these food parcels to homes across London.

This was until earlier this week when a police raid at the community centre meant they had to leave. Thanks to Jonathan Moberly, one of the other volunteers, they now find themselves at what they hope is a more secure base in Toynbee Hall where they can continue their work undeterred. When I spoke to Lynda on her mobile phone, they had just moved in.

‘When we first started, some people were close to starving,’ Lynda explained to me. ‘They were really struggling. Before we got the delivery drivers organised, some people didn’t even have the money to travel to get the food from us. Now a number of those people that we helped have become volunteers themselves.”

The people that Lynda and the team are feeding are those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Many have no legal status in this country and are not entitled to any benefits. Having worked mainly cash-in-hand, neither are they eligible for the furlough scheme. Their precarious position also means that despite government calls to landlords not to evict tenants during the lockdown, that is precisely what many have faced.

Though apprehensive and anxious about further attempts by the Home Office and the police to disrupt what they are doing, Lynda and her volunteers’ priority is to feed people in need, rather than judging their legal status.

These are people we all know. They are the people who clean our offices and homes, they drive taxis, they cook and serve food to us in restaurants and cafes, they deliver our parcels, and wash our cars. With them, we have a functioning city but, without them, the city comes to a standstill. We are all co-dependent upon each other, and in these times of the pandemic, such people are not only falling through the gaps, but they are falling fast and hard.

Lynda delivers food to one flat, which itself has become a sanctuary to fourteen others who are out of work, unable to pay their rents and now homeless. She told me of another example of a man who was discharged from two weeks in hospital only to return to his room and find that he had been evicted. There are those who live in places with no kitchens, so they have to be given food they can eat without the need for cooking. ‘Are they able to cook?’ – this is one of the first questions volunteers ask when people get in touch.

Lynda has many more examples like this, not only revealing the conditions under which people are surviving but also that they have always lived precariously. The virus has lifted the lid on the recesses and corners of our city and the neo-liberal society we inhabited.

Lynda’s operation is simple, using the money people donate to buy food in bulk and distribute it. Also local businesses are donating supplies. Those who need food either self-refer or – crucially – others do it on their behalf. Asking for food is humiliating for working people who are used to relying on themselves, who most often work in more than one job, often throughout the day and night and in uncertain, unsafe and exploitative situations.

When Lynda talked about her children, I enquired whether she is worried about catching the virus. “People told me to stay at home, why give myself the hassle of doing this?’ she replied. ‘But someone has to do it. I find it hard not to get involved. I am now working seven days a week on this. You won’t believe it but, when the virus first started, I was one of those parents that took my children out of school before they were officially closed. I was that scared for them. But then I forgot all about that fear because, for me, people in this city starving is so much more frightening. It’s a different level of fear to the one I had about the virus. Getting sick from Corona is a risk, but the situation these people find themselves in is worse. The question they are asking themselves is ‘Do you want to die of Corona or do you want to starve to death?’ And that’s not right.”

Jonathan Moberley and Lynda Ouazar

Kamil

Unloading cartons of flour at Toynbee Hall

Lynda, Jonathan & Kamil

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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29 Responses leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Thank you to Delwar for bringing us this report, also to the GA for providing a platform for these important stories, and especially to Lynda for the work that you’re doing. If anything good comes out of this disaster, I hope it will be much needed change in the situation of people who are marginalized, but without whom everything grinds to a halt. No different here in the US, as witness the situation with our meat production facilities which could not function without the labor of immigrants who are most in peril of catching the virus.

  2. Judi Jones permalink
    May 3, 2020

    You’re yet another group of brave individuals, who are absolute angels putting other people’s welfare as a priority.

    Although in the photos none of you were wearing masks or gloves – please do that for your own sakes and the people that you help. Surely it’s safer to do so.

    Thank you for all your hard work.

  3. hilary permalink
    May 3, 2020

    This is wonderful work you are doing – truly compassion in action!

  4. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Heavens above! This story is such an emotional one. It’s one of such Giving, that I am…..what…… amazed at….. the Bravery…..of these three wonderful people, being supported by their team of delivery riders, left breathless at….. their Self-sacrifice……, stopped-in-my-tracks by the….Factual images….of this happening in, of all places – London, but most of all full of admiration for their….Powerful Humanitarianism.

    Much love from one little individual in Australia.

    Thank-you, gentle author……………..

  5. May 3, 2020

    How Wonderful of the Kind People feeding so many who are needy!!!🥰😊😘💖🙏👏

  6. Leanne Teves permalink
    May 3, 2020

    I am not sure which is bigger- my dismay that they were kicked out of the first distribution center, my fond impression of Lynda or my sadness about those she serves. I do know this however: the pandemic is bringing out the best in many people and we need to continue to focus on that and also ask ourselves: how can best serve others? The world is and adjusted. be forever changed by this. Old ” rules and protocols ” may need to be dropped, or adjusted.. Courage! Go forth with creativity and courage! …like Lynda…

  7. James Wyburd permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Illegals raise mixed emotions, but they have no access to benefits and without savings or work they are are uniquely vulnerable. So, at a time when many charities are not really charities at all, it is real charitable purpose to help them. It is not the time to argue about the semantics of whether they should or should not be here.

  8. May 3, 2020

    Shocking story. Good on Lynda and her crew.

  9. May 3, 2020

    Good work in hard times, with excellent photos

  10. Lesley permalink
    May 3, 2020

    You are all brilliant! What a terrible Goverment.

  11. May 3, 2020

    So many inspiring & heartwarming stories are coming out of this dreadful pandemic. On a small pension I sadly cannot donate to everyone, but do my best to help where I can in the area I now live. May all those in difficulties find help from somewhere.

  12. Leana Pooley permalink
    May 3, 2020

    What good and kind work – and well described.

  13. Esther Wilkinson Rank permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Thank you to all the volunteers who risk their own health to help others. You are all heroes.

  14. May 3, 2020

    Such an inspiration. Active compassion like this is awesome.

    I have struggled with Lockdown but what these people on the edges of the margins are going through is something else.

  15. Barry E J Smith permalink
    May 3, 2020

    An impressive report on such good work carried out in this crisis.

  16. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Brilliant work by the team getting food to where the need is greatest.

    I do hope that they can stay on in Toynbee Hall so that their fantastic operation can carry on safely.

    I also hope that the generous Spitalfields Life readers will donate whatever they can to help…

  17. Linda Granfield permalink
    May 3, 2020

    Many thanks to Lynda and her able crew who show every day how much they care for others during this Scourge.
    Delivery by motorbike is a grand idea–thanks to those folks, as well.

    I hope the donations grow until the numbers who need the food decrease.

    Good health to us, everyone!

  18. May 3, 2020

    Great work, Lynda and her crew. It takes courage and a very big heart to do what they are doing. Thank you. And thank you, GA, for publicizing it. Maybe people will donate more.

  19. May 3, 2020

    Thank you for this report. I knew Lynda some years ago at our kids school, where she was a great volunteer organiser for the parents, and was pleasantly surprised to see her picture then very impressed to read this report. Wonderful project.

  20. May 3, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for Delwar Hussain’s piece on Lynda Ouazar’s heroic work to feed the needy during this pandemic. Two observations had particular universal relevance:

    “Asking for food is humiliating for working people who are used to relying on themselves, who most often work in more than one job, often throughout the day and night and in uncertain, unsafe and exploitative situations.”

    NB how many “essential workers” on this side of the pond who toil in meat processing plants have now succumbed.

    Also,

    “The virus has lifted the lid on the recesses and corners of our city and the neo-liberal society we inhabited.”

    So very true. Again, over here such a disproportionate number of minorities have died from Covid.

    One can only imagine how this disease will ravage developing countries where frequent “hand washing” is impossible, to say nothing of their meager food supply.

    Kudos to Lynda and her volunteers!

  21. Ian Silverton permalink
    May 3, 2020

    What a truly wonderful gift you all have of giving your time and energy to others in need, cannot believe the UK has sadly neglected its poor people once to often,yet gives Billions of UK Pounds away in overseas AID to other so called poor countries,it makes you weep. Stay safe UK,you will come through this but it will take time,don’t let them rush you.

  22. Joni Sackett permalink
    May 3, 2020

    This is just beautiful.

  23. Betsy Brewer permalink
    May 4, 2020

    Thanks for giving us an opportunity to give to people who have quite deliberately been overlooked by the government and still not allowed “recourse to funds”

  24. Miss Gherkin permalink
    May 4, 2020

    Thank you for writing about this, Delwar; thank you TGA for posting on your blog; and thank you Lynda for everything you do.

    “Though apprehensive and anxious about further attempts by the Home Office and the police to disrupt what they are doing, Lynda and her volunteers’ priority is to feed people in need, rather than judging their legal status.”

    Police raids a food bank that is feeding starving people? That is just plain evil, even for the UK.

    This story needs to be picked up by a newspaper. Hostile environment indeed.

  25. Amanda permalink
    May 5, 2020

    l’ve always spent my hard earned money where l’m treated well, with kindness, with good cheer and instantly stop shopping anywhere l feel invisible.

    Recently much of my memorable good service with laughter has been from the foreign workforce.

    This shocking revelation brought home that those suffering this frightening situation are likely to be our fun waiters & unseen staff at favourite cafés & restaurants;
    our most willing shop assistants who make our day;
    our extra fast car valets who take the mickey out of the amount of junk in our car;
    our reliable cab drivers who also CARRY our heavy suitcase.
    They have been the indispensable cogs running our lives for decades whether we know or not or even wonder if they are legally settled.
    When hit by extraordinary disaster meaning starvation, with no means of earning money, food and a roof over their head, l don’t give a flying duck if they are ‘legal’ and neither should any other being calling themselves human.

    Enormous admiration for Lynda 🙏 who l wish receives official recognition for her personal risk 🏅 rather than being driven from her HQ. Disgraceful.

    l have lived abroad without family,
    experienced robbery, the insecurity of losimg all of my ID, the panic of noone to help, but starvation is way beyond ANYTHING most of us have experienced.

    (Well reported Delwar/GA)

  26. L E Williamson permalink
    May 5, 2020

    “They have been the indispensable cogs running our lives for decades whether we know or not or even wonder if they are legally settled”

    Excellently put by Amanda. I don’t know or care where people came from but I do know that if we leave anyone to starve, our veneer of civilisation is indeed thin. I think we will get through the current crisis by ensuring no one is neglected and left behind and holding out open hands to all who need help.

    Thank you Delwar and GA for this and thank you with all my heart Lynda and your co volunteers.

    Laura

  27. May 11, 2020

    Thank you Lynda and volunteers for caring so much to take the risk of providing food. No matter someone’s status-food is essential for all people and a basic right.

  28. Phoenix permalink
    May 21, 2020

    Humbling.

  29. Lynda Ouazar permalink
    June 2, 2020

    I am truly touched by all your heart warming comments and would like to thank the spitafields life blog for putting up this article to raise awareness about the issue of NRPF and also help SOLIDARITY BRITANNIA food bank raise funds to continue supporting the increasing numbers of families and individuals in Urgent need of help.

    I would like to thank all of you for showing compassion and Solidarity during these very tough times we are all facing in a way or another.

    Isolation, not being able to travel or see your loved ones, living in fear and not working… I am not talking about CORONA pandemic, rather, I am talking about a huge section under NRPF who live all year round like if it was all the time Corona because they are undocumented immigrants.

    There are 2 million people in the UK who have no access to any of the welfare safety net measures that the government has extended for Covid-19.. Many fear hostile environment repercussions of asking for medical or welfare assistance.

    This is a public health scandal at a time of pandemic.

    ‼️‼️ Help us by writing to the politicians ‼️‼️

    – Remove NRPF
    – Halt the hostile environment policies

    Boris Johnson: boris.johnson.mp@parliament.uk
    Sadiq Khan: mayor@london.gov.uk
    Your local MP: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
    Your local councillors: https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council

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