Reflections on food distribution

For the last 13 weeks, The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) have paused our normal activities and refocused our work to provide relief and support to Birmingham residents in need. TAWS have been coordinating the community food response to Covid-19 in Birmingham, which has seen a network of over 70 organisations and over 100 individuals come together under the banner #BrumTogether. This network of local organisations and mutual aid groups have worked together to provide support for local people including through delivering food parcels, hygiene products, baby supplies, as well as clothing and household items.

Back in mid-March, as the coronavirus was spreading in the UK and a national lockdown was looming, TAWS acted quickly to bring together a broad network of organisations across Birmingham who were committed to ensuring that people did not go hungry. Within a week of the social distancing measures being put in place, TAWS had taken on the role of coordinating the citywide response to food distribution. TAWS staff members stopped working in their normal day job and were redeployed in new roles. Our office phone lines were redirected to employees’ homes, and the food distribution site became the new ‘office’. Both at work and at home, things were new and uncertain.

As supermarket shelves emptied and local services were reduced or closed, it became obvious that we would need to come together to find new ways of working to support those in need. TAWS staff, partners and volunteers have been working hard to meet these needs. Through #BrumTogether, the food distribution network has given out over 30,000 food parcels and delivered over 7,000 hot meals. Charities and community organisations have also collected food in bulk, which has been used to create and deliver 7,000 food parcels each week. Emergency food distribution has been a huge campaign which has highlighted the scale of food poverty in Birmingham as well as the value of collaborative working, community resilience and sharing.

Tousif from GoodGym Birmingham reflected, ‘It’s amazing to see how many organisations are pulling together and it’s all being co-ordinated by The Active Wellbeing Society. The number of parcels that are going out every day is mind-blowing, it’s a massive operation.’

Sadly, food poverty and hunger are not new problems in our city. Even before the strain that coronavirus has placed on our everyday lives and the economy, 8.4 million people in the UK were struggling to afford to eat. Covid-19 has simply worsened many of the problems that Birmingham residents already faced. #BrumTogether volunteers have said that helping with food distribution has been an eye-opening experience. One volunteer explained ‘it’s sometimes shocking seeing people who are in need’, while another reflected ‘It has been interesting to see a side of the community that I knew nothing about.’ Covid-19 has shown that many people were already socially isolated or teetering on the brink of food crisis without stocks of food to fall back on.

Covid-19 has forced us to make many changes to the way we live. As we move forward towards recovery, we need to think about how we can work together to address food poverty, so that nobody in our city has to go hungry. What can we do differently in future and what can we learn from the #BrumTogether response?

The funding that initially helped us supply food is coming to an end and we urgently need to raise money to help us continue our work. As we have seen, #BrumTogether food distribution has been an essential service which has had an enormous impact, but to be able to continue to meet the demand for food, we need your help. #BrumTogether has been built on community resilience, voluntary work, sharing and giving – let’s keep it going.

If you would like to make a donation to support the campaign (all money received will go directly to the purchase of food items, hygiene packs, baby packs and activity packs for kids) please visit https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/brumtogether. Or if you have food supplies you would like to donate, please visit: https://theaws.co.uk/donate-food/.


Nina Conway
Author: Nina Conway