The Covid-19 crisis and lockdown have meant that grass-roots food support services offered by churches and community groups in the Kingston area had to stop. We are grateful to organisations such as Kingston Foodbank, Voices of Hope, Crest, and others, who mobilised quickly to extend their services and reach our most vulnerable residents with food parcels and pre-prepared meals. Their actions have made a real difference to many people’s lives during these difficult times. These are just a few examples:

A single mum who had not eaten for three days because she was shielding herself and her new born baby and could not leave her home received the help she needed

An elderly couple, the fragile wife caring 24/7 for her husband with dementia, who had been told to shield and with no family close by to assist with shopping received ready-prepared hot meals

A very low income, mental health patient, too frail to carry shopping from the supermarket and who had their shopping delivery stolen by landlord received direct food deliveries

The most vulnerable people and families across Kingston continue to need this support and, as the lockdown eases, we know that many local groups are keen to restart their own food services. To help these groups be confident that they do this safely for both their clients and volunteers the guidance below has been put together based on the experience of organisations such as Voices of Hope. Your help can make a real difference to people’s lives.

In the current circumstances, the two most important areas to think about when re-opening grass-roots food support are:

If you are unable to restart your support cafe, lunch club or soup kitchen, don't worry, your organisation can still support those most vulnerable in the community:

Adapting your services to best support your users

Many of your users may be in the shielded category or consider themselves vulnerable. While government guidelines continue to change over time, people in these groups may feel fearful about social situations for a while. Therefore your services may need to adapt by addressing the limitations both physical and mental. Here are five things to consider:

  1. Food services you can offer: For some time, only three options for food service have been available: take away; outdoor service, and delivery. From 4 July this will extend to indoor consumption of food and drink. Think about what you can realistically offer after considering social distancing and addressing anxieties that users and volunteers may have. 
  2. Users’ needs: Speak to your users to understand how they might access your food offer. Would other users be comfortable to collect food, sit inside, or outside to eat or would they prefer to receive a food delivery?
  3. Volunteer demographics: Many of you may have volunteers who are in vulnerable or shielded groups and may feel that they are unable to support your service. Consider tasks they may still be able to do from a distance so they continue to feel involved. It is possible for them to cook/bake at home however, they will need to have passed a food hygiene course (low-cost options are available online). With more people than ever wanting to support their community think about recruiting new volunteers: contact Volunteering Kingston to find out the best way to do this.
  4. Consider how you will sustain your service: Kingston Voluntary Action can offer advice and support on funding for projects – to find out more email fundraising@kva.org.uk
  5. Get digital: Superhighways offer advice, training, and IT support to help small charities and community organisations be more effective, raise their profile, and demonstrate their impact using digital technology.

Enabling social distancing and hygiene requirements in light of Covid-19

In this rapidly changing situation, it is important to check regularly on the Government website so that you are aware of the latest guidance around Covid-19. Food hygiene and guidelines are critical under all circumstances and if you are thinking about changing how you will distribute food you may need to remind yourself of any rules or regulations. Here are five things to consider:

  1. Look at your venue with fresh eyes: Consider the space you have available and walk through your premises to help you decide what needs to be moved, changed, or where signage should be displayed. Start at the entrance to your venue - at what point can you check temperatures; when should people put on masks; where can they sanitise, and/or wash hands. It’s also useful to ask volunteers to sign in and out. You will also need to consider the number of volunteers who can be present at one time and maintain social distancing requirements during food preparation and service.
  2. Revisit hygiene practices: Everyone should sanitise their hands when entering the building and wash them as soon as they have access to a sink. Remind volunteers and staff to wash their hands on a regular basis e.g. set allotted times, put posters up at eye level. Remove towels and replace them with paper towels. Make sure you are aware of the latest Government guidance on using disposable gloves and aprons for food preparation, service, and delivery: this has changed several times so best to check. Always keep the four C’s of food hygiene practices in mind: Cleaning; Cooking; Chilling; Cross-contamination.
  3. Set clear guidelines for your volunteers: They should not attend if they, or someone they live with, feel unwell, have a temperature or other symptoms of Covid-19. Volunteers who are in the highly-shielded category should also stay at home, they could however get involved in other ways. For those who are able to volunteer, you may wish them to sign a ‘volunteer agreement’ confirming they understand and will comply with the shielding, distancing, and hygiene requirements. You may also ask your volunteers to wear face masks and disposable aprons. These and other items of non-medical PPE are now easy to procure, for example from Amazon.
  4. Consider how you will serve your clients: Do you have a collection point (eg a doorway) where food can safely be handed over to clients? Is delivery something that you can take on? Food can be made available hot, chilled or frozen. In each instance, you will need to be familiar with the labelling, storage, and re-heating requirements (see an example from Voices of Hope under Useful Links).
  5. Training of staff and volunteers: If working out of a church or community hall kitchen, the manager/supervisor of your volunteers must have the Level 3 Certificate in Supervising Food Safety in Catering. If you have volunteers involved in home baking and cooking, they should also have this certificate as they are self-supervising. There are a number of low-cost, online courses available which take a matter of hours to complete.

Not ready to offer food at your venue but still want to help?

  • Prepare food to deliver to others: If delivering food to your local community is not something your organisation can offer, or you feel that your client's food needs are currently being supported in other ways, then consider whether you and your volunteers could return to preparing meals and providing these to Voices of Hope who will manage distribution to the homeless in our borough. If this is something you are able to do, then please contact Pippa at pippa@voh.org.uk
  • Donate non-perishable food: You can now drop off non-perishable food donations to over 

    100 locations in Kingston. 'Street Champions' are volunteering their homes as safe, secure, and local drop-off points across the borough. Supplies are then collected and delivered to food banks across Kingston. Please remember to continue to observe social distancing guidelines at all times. If you would like to nominate yourself as a Street Champion please contact Martel Atterbury at martel.atterbury@kingston.gov.uk or call 07500 952 919.

  • Donate perishable food: If you have a glut of fruit or vegetable from your allotment or garden. You can donate this to Voices of Hope, contact Pippa at pippa@voh.org.uk for more information.

Useful Links:

Food Standards Agency advice on community cooking and foodbanks

Food Standards Agency advice on food hygiene for your business

RBK Environmental Health Service - serving food during Covid-19

Voices of Hope Food Delivery Procedures