Reporter is only one of four people to attempt foodbank challenge set by Stonebridge charity
PUBLISHED: 13:00 27 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:19 03 December 2019
Perhaps the greatest surprise of doing a Stonebridge charity's foodbank challenge is that I was only one of four people who signed up to it.
Sufra Foodbank & Kitchen NW London, based in Pitfield Way, alerted 3,000 people on its mailing list and media outlets such as the Brent & Kilburn Times encouraging entries to its foodbank challenge running from November 4 to 8.
Could people live on a food parcel for five days and raise much needed funds for the charity while raising awareness of the current food poverty crisis in Brent?
The statistics horrified me: An average of 45 per cent of children in all the borough's wards live in extreme poverty.
Brent has the 14th highest levels of child poverty in the whole of Britain, according to figures from the Child Poverty Action Group.
Personally, a decade experiencing multiple evictions from private and temporary accommodation with the birth of my son ended the year this independent charity launched in 2013.
Since that time it has gone from handing out 20 parcels a week to more than 9,400 last year.
Now with winter approaching, people in extreme poverty are having to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table.
I found the five day challenge difficult - no fresh fruit, vegetables or proteins like eggs or meat. Nothing persihable, no condiments to make the unperishable tasty.
A massive thanks goes out to all who supported me and who helped me raise an astonishing £1,222 for the charity.
I've also put in a bid to my publisher Archant's Gold Scheme which matches donations pound for pound.
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On Friday I visited the charity's portacabin in St Raphael's Estate where they were running their weekly community food kitchen "for the homeless and for the lonely".
On the menu was a free feast comprising roasted red pepper and spicy tomato soup, broccoli cheese bake and crumble and custard made with ingredients from the nearby edible garden and waste from local supermarkets.
It was cooked and prepared by some of Sufra's 120 volunteers, an accountant and Guardian journalist among them.
As well as the foodbank and community kitchen, the bulk of the charity's work is benefit, housing and immigration advice. It also runs a weekly food academy teaching youngsters how to cook.
Nirmean Sawi, Sufra's capacity building officer, was one of the challenge participants. "We feel a bit let down, when we were thinking of doing the challenge we thought it was exciting, might go viral as an active campaign," she said. "In Brent there are a lot of people who like food, are foodies, we thought we are bound to get 40 people. Maybe we didn't do enough to promote it."
As a result they are running the campaign all year, so it's not too late for foodies. They hope to reach their £8,000 target before Christmas.
"Over winter people are spending a lot more on heating, it's reducing the monthly accounts they have. At Christmas they want to get presents and will have a lot less to spend."
Refugee resettlement officer Zena Kazeme, found the challenge "harder than Ramadan" - the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast until sunset. "The majority of families I help are refugees, some are European migrants and others asylum seekers. I wanted to increase my emphathy and better understand the people I'm dealing with, put myself in their shoes.
"These are testing times and you need patience when they are waiting five weeks for Universal Credit or applying for emergency funding and you can't do anything except give them a food parcel."
Single mum-of-three Paula Sarri Gonzalez had to give up her job as a chef as the childcare costs were greater than her income "even with tax credits". She has food vouchers and also volunteers. "I felt embarrassed when I first started coming but they understand and make you feel you are not the only one."
Co-founder Fahim Dahya was a former youth worker in Wembley who saw young children stealing food because there was none at home. "Our major ethos is community. We are the middle man. Your neighbour might be starving and you don't know. The amount of children in poverty, the amount of children who only have the meal they get in school.
"Austerity is all our fault. We must rebuild the community."
To support Sufra go to sufra-nwlondon.org.uk/