Help the Hungry: Emergency food delivery drive kicks into action in northeast England

Adam Forrest
Staff and volunteers at The Auckland Project: The Auckland Project

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many food banks hit by a drop in donations and volunteers to close. Yet some arts charities have switched gears and stepped in to help, delivering emergency food packages to people in desperate need.

The Auckland Project – an organisation delivering cultural and education programmes in the northeast town of Bishop Auckland – is now leading a huge emergency food operation to deliver supplies to vulnerable people in County Durham.

The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign has been supporting the work going on across the UK to ensure that everyone has enough to eat during the outbreak, backed by figures such as London mayor Sadiq Khan, Labour MP Jess Phillips and TV cook Nigella Lawson.

The Auckland Project is an impressive example of how small groups are adapting to the crisis. Based at Auckland Castle, the kitchen staff at the visitor cafe are now cooking 500 fresh meals a day. More than 10,000 of the frozen meals have been dropped off at homes in the area over the past few weeks.

“We knew a big section of the community would be hit hard by this, so we felt getting food out to those in need was the best way to help,” said Liz Fisher, one of the directors at the project. “It means big changes, but the staff wanted to do all they could – they really stepped up.”

The Auckland Project’s team of 17 staff and volunteers have been busy working in the kitchen, preparing dishes such as cottage pie, lasagne, mince and dumplings and carrot cake for distribution.

There is a move to grow food locally, too. Two acres of the castle’s walled garden has now been set aside for planting potatoes, beans, leeks, cabbages and asparagus.

“Hopefully we can start getting the food we grow here into our meals, and possibly even have a celebration dinner once we get past the crisis,” said Ms Fisher.

Staff and volunteers at The Auckland Project’s kitchen (The Auckland Project)

The charity has teamed up with the South Durham Enterprise agency and another local charity called Health Express to work out which individuals and families need support.

Chris Bowron – owner of The Miners Arms on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland – is also part of the emergency food drive. His closed-up pub acts a distribution hub for the local “mutual aid” group, and Mr Bowron and a team of volunteer drivers deliver around 150 frozen meals from The Auckland Project each day.

“It’s been crazy and heart-breaking at times to see how much people are struggling,” said the 42-year-old publican.

“You have elderly people alone and families isolating for health reasons. Then you have self-employed folk finding it really difficult without any money in the short term. We’re trying to help everybody we can. We don’t say no anybody.

“I had one older guy phone me up to ask for a delivery who said, ‘I’m a proud man – I’ve never asked for help before’. It shows you what people are going through.”

On Thursday, doctors and nurses at Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) received hundreds of freshly cooked meals from London’s top restaurants as part of our Help The Hungry campaign.

Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of The Independent, delivered 600 meals to the hospital, along with several volunteers from our key campaign partner The Felix Project.

Helping hand: Evgeny Lebedev delivers 600 meals to Great Ormond Street staff with other Felix volunteers (Hannah Harley Young)

It took just twelve days for the Help The Hungry appeal – launched in conjunction with our sister title the Evening Standard –​ to reach its initial target of raising £1m for The Felix Project to fund a supply of food to children, the poor, the NHS and vulnerable people in London. The aim now is to raised another £1m.

The Independent is also encouraging readers to help groups that are trying to feed the hungry across the country – find out how you can help here. Follow this link to donate to our campaign in London in partnership with the Evening Standard.

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