Maia Thomas, the founder of Exeter Black Lives Matter, writes about the Feed Our Community project that she has set up which delivers food to hundreds of people in need in her local area. Maia recently received the Ron Todd Foundation’s Equality award.
Food is essential to everyone but inaccessible to many. Hunger is a matter of urgency but constantly ignored. Many people say they are ‘hungry’ as a throwaway comment daily, but have you really experienced true hunger? Behind closed doors some people face an empty fridge most days of the week with nothing but hopes and prayers till they see their next meal. In a world where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow daily, some have little or no access to food.
As an Equality Activist I have championed numerous projects in my community to be a leader in creating change. Creating the opportunity for thousands of individuals to gain access to food which they struggle daily to get, was essential. So I did it. I created Feed Our Community – a project supplying food packages to those in food poverty, struggling financially, on furlough and anyone truly in need. Over 2,600 households have received food packages in around six weeks.
But reducing food poverty in my area could not be solved just by providing food packages. I wanted to provide opportunities for free education on household and financial management, meal ideas and smart ways to shop. This has been achieved by hosting free zoom meetings and coaching sessions. I have created a support group, so people no longer feel they are alone; this is extremely valuable due to the tumultuous world in which we currently live. Hundreds of individuals from my local community and beyond have attended these informative sessions. Many have since got jobs, are on track to paying off their debts and now have a network to confide in.
The project started one lunchtime when I was scrolling through Facebook. I found a young woman reaching out to her community for guidance on getting food, due to the financial hardship she was facing. This was not what I usually come across and that moment made me decide to act. I created a food package for her and delivered it to her doorstep. I was unaware at this moment that one food package would turn into supplying over 2,600 households six weeks later.
To decide the content of food packages I always give what I would like to receive, a value that I have stuck to throughout the development of Feed Our Community. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be accessible to everyone, so I made this a priority. After planning a week’s worth of meals, I packaged the bags with different nutritious ingredients. The packages include tinned meats and fish, pasta, rice, other tinned products, breakfast items and daily essentials such as toiletries.
This woman was young, at an age where you may lack knowledge of available support systems. Reaching under-represented and often unreachable groups has been a core focus of Feed Our Community. For some, reaching out for help – whether that be food or financial assistance – is viewed as shameful in their culture. Others may not be able to get to food banks due to being disabled physically or having mental health challenges. Exploring accessibility to Feed Our Community through the lens of different groups is essential. Accessibility of a service is fundamental. No one should have to suffer in silence, not having food available to them. Therefore, this project was designed with a range of groups in mind and contactless delivery was the best way to be most inclusive.
The young woman who originally reached out was extremely brave to allow public knowledge of her financial situation but not everyone would feel comfortable doing so. Feed Our Community has always been confidential. After finding my posts via different community groups, or through being a member of my Facebook group, people can reach out via direct message, expressing their need for a food package or other financial assistance: for example an emergency electricity top up. The Facebook group was created to break down the barriers and end the sense of shame about needing to reach out. The world is in a particularly difficult space and now more than ever people need to feel able to get assistance when they need it.
Reducing food poverty and food waste go hand in hand. Making the connection between food that would otherwise be wasted and those truly in need is part of my mission. Connecting with supermarkets through FareShare has enabled this project to reduce food waste in my community. The project also works alongside farms and other local businesses to get good quality food to those who are truly in need.
In a society where we spend a lot of time talking, I decided to act. Food poverty is a matter of urgency which we cannot continue to ignore. The number of people in food poverty is rising yet food waste is greater than ever before. Why do we continue to waste, when so many do not have? Society is becoming increasingly divided yet so many groups’ voices are unheard and not catered for. Feed Our Community intends to bridge these gaps.
It is time for a revolution, and this is a first step among many.
Maia will be speaking a public meeting on Thursday 18th March at 6.30pm and discussing her campaigning work and the Peace and Justice Project of Jeremy Corbyn which she has signed up to. She will be joined at the meeting by CND General Secretary Kate Hudson and former MP Thelma Walker. Please register for the meeting using this link. It will be held on Zoom