“Food is Still at the Heart of Everything We Do”
How combating food poverty remains at the top of Mustard Tree’s priority list on #WorldHungerDay
“It’s one off the smallest areas of the building— but it has the biggest impact”, says Chris — Mustard Tree’s food manager. “100 clients a day using it is just normal to us now — before the pandemic it was around 30–40”.
What was previously an avenue for people on low/no income to access low-cost food is now becoming a critical lifeline for hundreds of new clients registering for Mustard Tree’s Food Club.
The realisation comes alongside the publication of Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s ‘GM Poverty Monitor 2020’, which finds that high levels of poverty in the city region are likely to have got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis shows that:
- The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Greater Manchester rose by 93% between March and August 2020
- There has been a sharp increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit in each of the city region’s ten boroughs
“It’s all connected”, says Services Manager Marvin. “professionals who were on comfortable salaries before the pandemic, now using our Food Club for the first time. Not to mention the families who were only just keeping their head above water before COVID hit — some of them are now deciding between having electricity or meals on the table. It really is that desperate”.
The soaring demand has been clear — 3,027 people used Mustard Tree’s two operating Food Clubs a total of 21,794 times between March 2020 — March 2021, not including the delivery of emergency food to over 6,000 households as part of the COVID-19 crisis response.
The surge has had a clear impact on the charity’s food supply budget, having gone from spending £4,000 a month on food pre-COVID — to £8,000 a week at the height of lockdown last year.
Anna, Mustard Tree’s helpdesk coordinator commented: “We’re still supporting around 40 people a week with emergency food deliveries who are vulnerable — they are either isolating or cannot leave their home due to a disability.
The fallout of the pandemic is now revealing food poverty isolation. Sometimes the only social interaction people are getting each week are with our drivers when they drop a parcel off”.
We didn’t realise it was so bad on our doorstep
Discussed in a recent Manchester Evening News article, it’s not just lack of food that is causing hardship in the city.
“During the first lockdown we also did food distribution on behalf of the council and we were delivering 100 food parcels a day across Manchester and Salford.
We really uncovered the true scale of poverty in Manchester during the first lockdown, we found out people just do not have basic appliances to cook with such as toasters, microwaves and cookers.
We were giving people food that they couldn’t eat and we were having to refine it because people didn’t have microwaves or were boiling noodles in a kettle.
It took us aback. We didn’t realise the full scale of it and had to refine our model because of it — we just didn’t realise it was so bad right on our doorstep”.
Sometimes the only social interaction people are getting each week are with our drivers when they drop a parcel off.
As part of its COVID-19 Recovery Roadmap, Mustard Tree is now fully reopen, with a new timetable of Clubs and Classes, as well as opening its building to partners such as the Street Engagement Hub — working collaboratively on homeless prevention across the city.
“We’ve now doubled the number of days a week we host the Street Engagement Hub with GMP and Manchester Council — ensuring the safety of our staff and clients whilst opening up our space to more than 10 different agencies”, says Jo — Mustard Tree’s CEO.
Mustard Tree has continued to receive significant help from its supporters, through such initiatives as the ‘Fill a Crate for Christmas’ campaign. Food donations from organisations such as the Manchester United Foundation have been vital, whereas partnerships with suppliers such as FareShare help to keep the food costs down.
Even with this support, the charity faces a £150k food bill for the financial year (previously £48k before the pandemic). At a time when the charity is moving forward to provide training and life-skills, the largest cost and demand still lies with its client’s most basic need — access to affordable food.
How you can help
- Consider donating ambient/non-perishable food to Mustard Tree
- Donate unwanted appliances, furniture and white goods
- Set-up a regular gift to help combat poverty and prevent homelessness
- Share this article to help spread awareness
(Source: Greater Manchester Poverty Action)
- 620,000 people are living in poverty
- 200,000 children live in households with an income below the poverty line
- 157,000 households are experiencing fuel poverty
- Around 750k people are claiming help towards housing costs
- 20% of all jobs in Greater Manchester are paid less than the Real Living Wage
Since 1994, Mustard Tree has created opportunities for people to help themselves, through learning new skills, finding work and sorting out accommodation. It provides food and resources to help make a home through its Community Shops, and offers creative programmes to aid recovery and encourage aspiration.
For more information, please visit www.mustardtree.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 228 7331.