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Tackling food poverty in London during COVID-19

Karim Ali, a Pharmacology student, has been supporting mutual aid groups in King’s home borough of Southwark through the innovative Funnel Support Network, which he helped develop. By joining the dots between hyperlocal donation stations across Southwark and the charities which redistribute food donations, Funnel aims to help those most in need and reduce food insecurity.

Karim, who is undertaking an integrated master’s with a year of work experience, is currently completing his placement at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases and will return to King’s next year in order to complete his MSci. He is heavily involved in the leadership positions of social justice movements on campus.

Karim spoke to us about how he has been volunteering to help tackle food poverty in our local communities.

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I am a second-generation Palestinian refugee who migrated to the UK three years ago to study and build a new home. When COVID-19 started, everyone around me was very keen to get back to their homes. It was worrying, but I decided I'd prefer to stay in London and help in any way that I could. A flyer for my local mutual aid group (North Bermondsey Community Support) came through my door and I decided to get involved.

Before long, I found myself part of the coordinating team. With the pandemic heating up, our team of locals urgently required a quick solution for our administrative management. We started learning how to design and build websites. Within three weeks, and with a small team, we were able to build a back-end system for case management which we launched to all the mutual aid groups across North Bermondsey.

Soon after, we found that one of the biggest problems facing our communities was food poverty. A recent report by the Food Foundation found that more than 8 million people around the UK are facing food insecurity. This problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, with food banks reporting more than five times their usual demand. To help ease this, we started setting up hyper-local food donation stations in people’s buildings, on their streets and in their local supermarkets.

Mutual aid groups across Southwark became interested in the project and we created a collaborative effort which we have called the Funnel Support Network. Funnel collects food from hyperlocal donation stations and divides donations between local food banks based on their demand. Local food banks, such as Pecan, Albrighton Community Centre and St George the Martyr, then handle the distribution of food. Our team does this all in one day, in one van, and without needing a warehouse to store food before redistribution. With only 20 running donation stations, the project has managed to gather around 4.9 cubic meters of food since it began in April.

We’re currently hoping to develop our system and try to roll it out across the whole borough. To do this, we’re looking for volunteers who would like to open food donation points to join our network and help us in Funneling food to those who need it.

On the personal side, I have recently joined a tech company called Do IT, based in Bermondsey. Do IT operates one of the largest online volunteer bases and were looking to develop a tool that mutual aid groups could use to organise themselves and deal with logistical and financial challenges they face, due to their lack of formalisation. By working with professional programmers, I hope that I can contribute to this effort to create a seamless and connected solution that would serve the largest number of aid groups across the country, allowing them to maximise the life changing work they undertake.

As an institution and as individuals I believe we must play whatever role we can in giving voices to those who have for long been disenfranchised. Despite the goodwill of people, the system will only be corrected when those in positions of power begin to lead with action for the collective global struggle against discrimination and profit-driven decisions. This is the truth for everything from food insecurity to climate change, civil rights and human rights.

In our darkest moments as a country, the powers of love and compassion have shone brighter than ever. A lot of people were able to put their differences aside to focus on the ideals which must unite us all. I think this should translate to a sign of hope. I hope that in seeing the humanity in one another, we will be able to extend our compassion beyond our borders, and beyond these troubling times. I believe we should not allow the effects which austerity and neglect have had on our communities to continue, and with this, we must do more than wish the same for others around the world. – Karim Ali, MSci Pharmacology student

King’s students, staff and alumni are #ContinuingToServe their local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. To discover more #ContinuingToServe stories, visit our webpage and follow @ServiceAtKings on Twitter and Instagram.

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