Singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding has lauded our Help The Hungry campaign as a “restoration of human faith” as she joined me to help those experiencing hunger in some of London’s most well-known postcodes.
From Soho to Bayswater, we set out to meet some of the people suffering real hardship because of the coronavirus and tell their stories.
A pensioner called Randall, who is 72 and a member of the Windrush generation, told us of the anxiety of waiting for documentation from the Home Office. The stress of it had sent him to hospital – so the last thing he needed was a global pandemic. Despite his ordeal, he was grateful for our support and remarkably positive. “There are certain things in life you can’t control,” he told us. Randall lives alone in a small flat and has received food parcels for the past two weeks.
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Ellie and I came to volunteer for the North Paddington Food Bank, which receives food from our appeal partner The Felix Project. The organisation also serves as the Westminster hub for the London Food Alliance, from which other local organisations can collect food to deliver to those who need it.
Two weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, the food bank was distributing 120 food packages a week. Last week, it sent out 700.
Such is the demand that they have taken over the Greenhouse Sports centre, where the sports charity used to offer classes and homework clubs for local schoolchildren.
“This is very different to what we normally do,” one of the sports coaches explains. The site is a beautiful church, with stained glass windows overlooking ping-pong tables. “It’s amazing. I can’t believe it’s been here all this time,” exclaimed Ellie at this operation in the heart of Marylebone.
But now the children are at home. A row of tables snakes around the building, stacked with fresh and tinned food. We load the food crates into a car and set off into the heart of London.
We meet Patrick, who is recovering from a cancer operation. “My friends have all disappeared,” he tells us. “I spent most of last year in and out of hospital.” With just his dog for company, the food parcels Patrick receives are a lifeline as he cannot leave his building.
Another recipient, Jean Wilde, tells us she is “absolutely alone” and utterly stressed by the situation. She is waiting for a heart operation, which has now been delayed.
She jokes with us that she prefers the Thai food in the parcels to the Middle-Eastern ingredients.
In Bayswater, we meet Dean, a recovering alcoholic with mental health problems. The food parcels give him a chance to try his hand at cooking. “I find it quite therapeutic,” agrees Ellie. “The only problem is I eat the cake that I bake straight away.” Dean is grateful for the support of Westminster council, and to Fortnum & Mason, which sent an extra bundle of tea and biscuits to accompany our deliveries that day.
Afterwards, Ellie remarks that as much as the food, our interactions with these people appear to have made a genuine difference to them.
“It’s something I’ve noticed from my work with the homeless – they just want to have that communication and contact with another person. It’s human nature.”
“It’s such a restoration of human faith to see things like this. I’m proud to be a part of it and I’m happy that I got involved in some way,” she adds.
Independent readers can buy a limited-edition print created by Damien Hirst to raise money for our Help the Hungry appeal.
The rainbow heart design comes in two sizes, priced at £300 and £1,000. The larger version, which is filled with butterflies, is 70cm by 72.7cm and the smaller one is 35cm by 36.4cm.
All money raised goes to The Felix Project. The editions will be available until midnight next Monday and are available to buy through HENI Editions here.
The Independent is encouraging readers to help groups that are trying to feed the hungry during the crisis – find out how you can help here. Follow this link to donate to our campaign in London, in partnership with the Evening Standard.