20 April 2018
A good meal and a warm welcome meets everyone who arrives at Brushstrokes Community Project, a charity supporting asylum seekers, refugees and the most vulnerable people in the Sandwell area of Birmingham.
It is a first glimmer of hope for many of the 1,000 people who arrive at the service every year after fleeing war, persecution or domestic violence.
A regular food delivery from FareShare is a lifeline to the charity and the people they support. Brushstrokes Community Project wouldn’t be able to provide their much-needed meals without it. Many people arrive at Brushstrokes with very little, so the meals made with surplus food can be the boost they need to start rebuilding their life.
“We couldn’t provide the food ourselves, it would just be too expensive. It would be logistically and practically impossible for us to replicate the unique service that FareShare provides.”
Teresa Clements, Project Manager
“Many people we work with have been in danger and, because of their experiences or journey here seeking asylum and some are destitute and in poor health,” Teresa Clements, Project Manager explains. “We work with women have fled domestic violence or who are trafficked from Eastern Europe and then abandoned when they become pregnant.”
“We work with lots of people and families seeking asylum and refugee status. We had a lovely family fleeing from Afghanistan, the father had been working as a UN interpreter and being in Afghanistan became very unsafe for them and they had to flee. Some people might have been persecuted because of their religion, their sexuality or because they’ve opposed their government.”
“Just today a woman came in with her nine year old little girl. She had a letter saying she was no longer eligible for state funding. She had no money and no food, so luckily we had FareShare food available which we could give to her and her child – potatoes, eggs, bread, milk and fruit – all universally recognised and healthy foods which would keep them going.”
Teresa and her team support people to feel settled and safe. They help people to overcome isolation and settle into the local community, starting with help with food and clothes through to taking English exams and finding a home and a job. Their befriending and outreach service visits people who might be lonely, giving them an opportunity to talk about the things that have troubled them. They also work with mothers to be to provide them with the basics for their new born babies such as clothes and toys.
Brushstrokes Community Project uses food from FareShare in two ways:
Firstly they provide emergency food to people when they are most in need. This could be because someone’s application for refugee status is successful but they then have up to six weeks without food while they await their first benefit payment or look for work. It’s often a difficult period when people are left without any kind of money or support.
It could be a woman and child fleeing domestic violence, who left home with just what they had on. Teresa explains “Many women who have fled domestic violence arrive saying ‘I had nothing till I came to you, I hadn’t eaten for two days. I know what it’s like to feel real hunger’.” They also give new mothers extra food so that they are able to breastfeed after some reported ‘we can’t feed our babies because we haven’t got enough food ourselves.’
The emergency food that Brushstrokes Community Project gives is a lifeline. Before using FareShare the charity “only had a small cupboard with tins and packets in it. We were just able to give out longlife food, now we can help people make a proper meal,” Teresa says.
Brushstrokes Community Project also use surplus food in their community café, the Place of Welcome. Every Friday the café throws open its doors to serve lunch for free. Teresa says “We make a big variety of meals with FareShare food, curries, jacket potatoes, pizza, cake, fruit. There’s a really nice atmosphere in the café with people making food from their own country. There’s a great deal of community spirit.”
The community café is particularly important for people suffering from social isolation, enabling people who wouldn’t usually be able to sit down with anyone else to enjoy a meal in company. Teresa explains that a lady who had come to the community café told her that “this is the first time that I had sat down all week with somebody. For all my other meals I have been on my own.”
“The increase in vital nutritional items that we can provide because of FareShare really makes a difference. Health and nutrition isn’t very good locally. If you’re living on £30 a week, life is tough and you can only afford very little. Your money has to cover everything so food can drop down your priorities.”
“Mental health issues are very common with the people we work with. We work with people who have been tortured and the effect of that on their mental health is huge. For people fleeing places like Syria or Afghanistan, they’ve seen the horror of living in a war zone and the effect of that on a family is acute. Your mental health and physical health are linked and good food gives you energy, it lifts your mood. Good food is a tremendous boost for them.”
“When we work with asylum seekers, many of them can wait a long time to hear back from the home office – some for over two years. Being able to give these people FareShare food can enable them to have a balanced diet and reasonably good standard of nutrition, compared to when we could only offer them tinned food. FareShare helps us keep the most marginalised people supported.”
“We can’t emphasise enough the value of the food we receive. Before we worked with FareShare we were only providing tinned food which is not adequate in sustaining health for those living in extreme poverty over a long period of time. FareShare provide an absolutely amazing service that normalises our client’s diets and makes them feel like everybody else.”
The need for food for people experiencing hardship is only increasing, and so the FareShare food provision is needed more than ever before. Teresa explains “We have seen a substantial increase in demand for food in the last year in particular due to the migrant crisis. It’s going up all the time. More people are falling through the net, it’s very difficult for them now to find the services to help, and charities are finding it more of a struggle to make ends meet.”
Teresa says “Having the food through FareShare means that we don’t have to worry. It means we know that we can provide for people no matter how many people we need to help that week. For us, it is one of the safety measures we know will be there, it’s regular and we know we will get food each week.”
“We don’t know in advance how many people we will need to help that week as people can need food at the last minute. FareShare means that we can support them in emergency situations. We wouldn’t be able to carry on as we are if the food through FareShare stopped tomorrow. It would leave a huge gap we couldn’t fill.”
“We receive a wide variety of food from Sainsbury’s – meat, dairy, salads, fruit and vegetables. The ready meals we receive also prove very useful, as some people we support live in hostels where they can only access a microwave, and our clients with mental health issues aren’t up to making themselves a meal and so wouldn’t eat otherwise.”
Amena* and her three children had been living off just toast and milk before Brushstrokes provided her with emergency food through FareShare FoodCloud. The family had fled the war in Syria and have been living in a hostel since arriving in the UK, not knowing whether their father was alive. When they were granted refugee status, their asylum support ended and a gap before benefit payments started left the family without any money to feed themselves. At first Amena was too ashamed to ask for help. The team at Brushstrokes Community Project heard that she was struggling and gave her emergency food and support. She says:
“Thank you very much for your kindness. My children and I appreciate what you have done for us. We will eat well today.”
*Name has been changed.
1 in 8 people across the UK are struggling to put food on the table. We think that is unacceptable, especially when so much good food is going to waste. We need your help to fight hunger and food waste today. £1 is enough to help deliver food for 4 meals. It’s the generosity and commitment of supporters like you that helps bring FareShare’s mission to life.
Set up a regular or one-off donation, or send a text message to make a gift to make a difference to people’s lives today: text FARE18 and the amount you would like to donate to 70070 (e.g. FARE18 £10). It will help us deliver more food to frontline charities and community groups like Brushstrokes Community Project who provide food and support to people like Amena.