Why this London food bank stayed open during the Queen’s funeral

As it happens6:58Why this London food bank stayed open during the Queen’s funeral

Michelle Dornelly says she had no intention of keeping hungry people in her community waiting all weekend for much-needed groceries.

Dornelly is the CEO and founder of Children with Voices and the Hackney Community Food Hub, a mobile food bank in London that operates out of several communal areas. The hub remained open on Monday despite a national holiday for the queen’s funeral.

“It’s extremely sad, you know, and our thoughts go out to the Queen and her family and… others who also lost their loved ones this month,” Dornelly said. As it happens host Nil Koksal.

“But the Queen supported what we were doing…so I know she would be very happy to see us continue feeding the vulnerable, needy and underprivileged today. So to me it was something we just had to do.”

Many food banks close for holidays

A number of food banks in the UK closed their doors on Monday to celebrate the holiday – a decision that has come under criticism from some residents of the country facing a cost of living crisis.

Dornelly says the Hackney Community Food Hub got about half as many customers as it normally did on Monday, as people largely expected it to be closed.

But those who took advantage of the service, she says, were immensely grateful.

“We made a delivery today and one of our volunteers got feedback from a very lovely gentleman who was so happy to receive the food. He didn’t think we would come as so many other services were closed today,” Dornelly said.

“It was great. That’s why we’re doing it.”

A procession on horseback moves along a long path towards the camera, while massive crowds gather on either side.
Viewed from Cambridge Gate, the procession following Queen Elizabeth’s casket, aboard the state hearse, travels the Long Walk in Windsor on Monday, making its final journey to Windsor Castle after Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral service. (Carl Recine/AFP/Getty Images)

The Queen’s funeral brought much of the country to a standstill on Monday. The students took a day off from school. A number of hospital appointments and funerals were postponed. And many private companies, including supermarkets, closed their doors.

Food bank closures in particular led to mixed reactions from Brits online. Some defended volunteers who wanted to take a day off to mourn the queen. Others disapproved of shutting down necessary services at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet.

Average UK household energy bills have doubled since spring. Food costs are also rising. Milk prices are up more than 33 percent year over year, while fruit juice and canned vegetables are up more than 15 percent.

A woman in an apron and headscarf smiles happily as she tosses salad into a bowl.
Dornelly says those who took advantage of the food bank’s services on Monday were very grateful that it was open. (Submitted by Michelle Dornelly)

Hackney Community Food Hub only operates Monday through Thursday, and Dornelly says she didn’t want people to wait the long weekend to restock.

She is critical of the decision to stop so many services. With schools closed, families who are having a hard time feeding are having extra mouths, she said. Many parents were forced to lose a day of work or seek childcare, she added.

In addition, she is concerned about the food waste associated with closed food banks and grocery stories.

“We respect and, you know, people honor the Queen, and it’s sad that she passed away. But… I don’t think they put a lot of thought into this,” she said.

‘Society becomes dependent’

Trussell Trust, a non-profit organization that supports a nationwide network of food banks in the UK, says it does not know how many of its members are closed on Mondays, but noted that it is “standard practice for them to be closed on public holidays when most referral organizations are also closed.”

The organization says each food bank has made its own decision whether or not to close.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have increased the need for food banks as more people struggle to afford the essentials such as food. The response to the possibility of food banks being closed during a public holiday illustrates that society is becoming dependent on volunteer-run charitable organizations to help people survive, and that’s not right,” Trussell Trust said in an emailed statement attributed to its director, Emma Revie.

“Food banks were established to support people in need in the short term, they are not a permanent solution to hunger and poverty, and they should not exist.”

Revie says the only way to tackle hunger in the UK “is for the government to make a long-term commitment to support those on the lowest incomes and to build a social security system that ensures everyone gets the essentials in life.” can afford life, such as food.”

Dornelly called on people to be more generous in these trying times.

“Volunteers need more support, more mental health care. We need money. Volunteers volunteer, but they also have to pay their bills. They also struggle with living costs,” she said.

“There is hardship everywhere. And I wish people would just open their eyes and be a little more compassionate.”

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