Community lifelines: Volunteer 'superheroes' feed Hackney people in need
- Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund
A grassroots organisation set up to teach positive life skills to Hackney children has been helping feed hundreds of people throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Michelle Dornelly is the driving force behind Children With Voices' Hackney Community Food Hubs (HCFC), which was set up to reach "hidden Hackney communities".
She told the Gazette: "If you live on an estate you are hidden, you are forgotten about and you are hard to reach. So we were going out specifically to reach those people."
The food hubs are run by volunteers and have supported over 600 people every week since March, providing over 50,000 free meals, including 200 meals to local homeless hostels every Thursday.
The organisation says demand for the service increased over Christmas to 800 people per week, and continues to rise.
Michelle said: "Deprivation and poverty in the community was bad before but the pandemic has highlighted and made the situation worse."
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As well as providing food, dedicated volunteers find out what essential items are needed, such as clothes, spare paper, pens, buggies and toys.
The organisation then appeals to the community for donations.
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"We put that out in the community and the community are amazing," Michelle said.
She adds that despite Covid creating a negative situation, it has helped bring people together.
Michelle explained: "You work, you come home and you are in your own environment, but this has allowed people to step out of their comfort zone and to explore the deprivation of what is going on.
"And it isn’t so far away from you, people weren’t seeing that. Now people are actually seeing the struggle and it's real.
"Without the pandemic, we would still be separated but this is just drawing us closer together just to support those that need to be supported."
Grace Chapman started volunteering to do bike deliveries last year and was "totally inspired".
She said: "Everyone coming together no matter who you are or what background - it was so brilliant.
"Without Covid, I wouldn’t necessarily have put my hand up to volunteer like this."
The organisation is now fundraising to secure a permanent home. Michelle believes a building will help HCFC reach more people as the service expands.
At the moment she must store non-perishable foods in a lockup outside of the borough, far from the communities she helps.
"When we did close one of the hubs and we said to people: 'What will you do?'
"The response from one guy was: 'I will just hang around at the supermarkets until after a certain time and I will go in their bins.' Another said to me: 'I will go back and beg on the streets,'" Michelle said.
She says her volunteers go above and beyond, not just by delivering food but by also providing emotional support, guidance and advice when people need it.
"We embrace everybody, we go out and feed the homeless, trying to fill the gap and whatever needs we see, we're on it. So, we're becoming like superheroes.
"When it's raining I feel sorry for my bike riders and they have got their hats and their jackets and they are still peddling in the wind and the rain. I love them, they are so dedicated and with that we are a force to be reckoned with."
Volunteer Grace adds that they are "so much more than a food bank": "We are a community hub and that word community runs through everything that we do."
The community hubs run from De Beauvoir Hub, 85 Downham Road, on Mondays and Thursdays from 12-3pm; at Prideaux House Hub, 10 Church Crescent, on Tuesdays from 11.30am-2.30pm; and at Gascoyne Hub, Gascoyne Road, on Wednesdays from 2-4pm.
Reach out to Children With Voices for support by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or ringing 07402 499 742.
To support HCFC, visit https://www.gofundme.com/manage/hackney-community-food-hub-christmas-appeal
The Hackney Gazette has teamed up with photographer Grey Hutton to tell the stories of organisations and people helping their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Grey Hutton’s Community Lifelines project visually uncovers the vast and diverse networks of assistance, community foodbanks and services ensuring people in need in Hackney do not go hungry, without care or support.