East of England Co-op steps up 'food justice' support after shoppers donate 5 tonnes of foodbank essentials during holiday hunger campaign

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Local community retailer joins Child Food Poverty Taskforce and announces Food Justice Conference after customers help foodbanks feed families in six-week drive.

The East of England Co-op is ramping up efforts to help deliver ‘food justice’ in our region after its shoppers donated almost 5 tonnes of foodbank items during a campaign to tackle school holiday hunger.

The six-week campaign ran throughout the summer holidays at 122 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to support 24 foodbanks in the region as they try to cope with surging demand for their vital services.

To boost foodbank stocks for vulnerable families, customers were encouraged to donate essentials at their local Co-op store, these were then distributed to those local foodbanks in greatest need.

Following this hugely successful campaign, the East of England Co-op now plans a virtual “Food Justice Conference” on 17-18 November where participants will discuss the challenges that lie ahead for foodbanks and other organisations striving for food justice, to understand how they can further help reduce food poverty.

The conference is among several initiatives, which also include participation in the Child Food Poverty Taskforce set up by footballer Marcus Rashford after his high-profile campaign to extend free school meals during the summer.

Approximately 4.2 million children were living in poverty in the UK prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and this number is expected to have risen recently.

The taskforce backs recommendations from the National Food Strategy, an independent review of UK food policy, and calls for government funding to:

  • Expand free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5m children aged seven to 16
  • Expand a school holiday food and activities programme to support all children on free school meals in all areas of England, instead of the current 50,000 children who receive support
  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers - which help parents with children under the age of four and pregnant women buy basic foods - from £3.10 to £4.25 per week and expand it to all those on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 people.

Furthermore, the East of England Co-op has written to local MPs, encouraging them to call upon the Government to act and support the increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers, and pledged to fund the £1.15 difference in its stores until there is a change in policy. 

Its latest food justice initiatives come as concern mounts over the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis with foodbanks being inundated with appeals for help from families and individuals in need.

East of England Co-op Joint Chief Executive, Niall O’Keeffe, said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the huge amount of support for our holiday hunger campaign and are extremely grateful, both to our members and customers for their generosity.

“The 5 tonnes of food, toiletries and essential items donated over six weeks was three tonnes more than we collected  last summer. This demonstrates the increased awareness of the crucial role of foodbanks, who throw a lifeline to the most vulnerable in our society every day.

“However, there remains a very long road ahead; it’s essential that we all help these amazing organisations and their selfless volunteers to ensure that families and individuals don’t go without.

“As a local community retailer, we will continue to support our local foodbanks and those in need in our communities with the aim of achieving food justice. We are proud to support Marcus Rashford as part of his Child Food Poverty Taskforce – it’s an issue that we feel incredibly passionate about and plan to fund the much-needed increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers in our stores until there’s a change in government policy.

“We will also undertake our own further initiatives, such as our Food Justice Conference, all with the aim of reducing food poverty.”

Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the East of England Co-op has donated £80,000 to local foodbanks to support families in food poverty under an emergency package of support launched to help community groups and services across the region through the COVID-19 pandemic.