‘It’s heartbreaking explaining to my son, 6, that people are still going hungry in 2020’

Daily Mirror
Mirror Journalist Polly Hudson visits the Selby Food Hub in Tottenham with her son Albie (6) (Image: TIM ANDERSON)

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You read it here first: this parenting lark is tricky.

In today’s extremely complicated, often heart-breaking world, how do you make sure your child is aware of what’s going on without completely shattering their innocence, leaving them in utter despair?

For example, with all that’s been in the news about Free School Meals recently, I’m more keen than ever that my son, Albie, is aware of how lucky he is. It’s important to me and his dad that he knows there’s injustice in the world, cares about it, and tries to help, even if it doesn’t directly impact him.

At the same time, he is only six years old. I don’t want to overwhelm or utterly disillusion him. It’s a tricky balance.

I decided that rather than shrieking at him every time he doesn’t finish his dinner, a better tactic may perhaps be to take him to donate to a Food Bank, and see one in action. After all, talking only gets you so far – witnessing something with your own eyes is surely a more valuable, and hopefully impactful, experience.

Moussa Amine Sylla and Sally Sturgeon set up the charity at the start of the pandemic
(Image: TIM ANDERSON)

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When the pandemic first hit the UK in March, there was no working Food Bank in Tottenham, North London. Two Community Organisers from The Selby Centre, a community centre in an old school building repurposed after the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985, decided that this needed to change, and fast.

Sally Sturgeon and Moussa Amine Sylla had been busy with an initiative helping new immigrants feel less isolated, but as most of their work was face to face, suddenly none of it was allowed.

“It was kind of ‘What do we do now?’” says Sally. “That’s how the idea for The Selby Food Hub was born. We redeployed ourselves into the role, really.”

Food Banks have strict guidelines – you need a voucher to prove you’re eligible. But thanks to lockdown, it was impossible to get a voucher, or even an appointment to apply, because everything had closed down. Sally and Moussa – knowing there were people who needed urgent help – got around this by starting an independent Food Hub(itals). Everyone in need would be welcome.

Sally explains, “If they were classed as no recourse to public funds, furloughed, low income, casual workers, self-employed, had a big family or were single, homeless, whatever – if they presented themselves we would make sure they got some food.”
Once the plan was set, Sally and Moussa sprang into action. Working 80 hours a week, they spoke to everyone they knew in the area and all the new mutual aid groups that had been set up. They also started a Go Fund Me.

“Boris Johnson should give them food,” says Albie
(Image: TIM ANDERSON)

Sally remembers, “We spent the first couple of days holding our breath and waiting to see whether all our phone calls came to anything. Then the donations began arriving. The mutual aid groups rallied round and really supported the project, it was phenomenal.”

Somehow, within nine days, The Selby Food Hub was fully stocked and raring to go. The first week they were open 13 people came, and from there it has steadily gathered momentum – last week 120 people turned up, and 715 bags of food were handed out

When I first explain the Food Hub to Albie, he isn’t sure how to feel about it. He asks why the people can’t just go to the shop and buy some food for themselves, and I tell him they aren’t able to. He’s confused.

“Have they been bad?”

UK poverty rates since 2000

I realise he’s remembering a book where someone was sent to bed without any supper as a punishment. I tell him the people have done nothing wrong, it’s not their fault.
“ Boris Johnson should give them food,” he says, in a perfectly out of the mouths of babes moment. I wonder if all kids in the country now know the Prime Minister’s name, after having CBeebies switched off for so many Coronavirus press conferences.

The more we talk, the more the hole I have dug for myself becomes clear. I can’t explain this criminally unfair situation satisfactorily, because it is criminally unfair. Albie announces that he’s hungry around 847 times a day – the idea of not being able to give him all the snacks a growing boy needs, nevermind the meals, is unbearable.

Albie goes quiet as he struggles to take it all in, and then says he feels like he might cry. It’s hard to know what to say, because he should cry. It’s devastatingly sad.
I tell him how Sally and Moussa started the Food Hub, and that the generosity of strangers keeps it going.

Little Albie got upset at the idea of people going hungry
(Image: TIM ANDERSON)

“I’m happy they do that, but I wish they didn’t have to,” he says. You and me both, kid.
Arriving at The Selby Centre, just off White Hart Lane, half a mile away from the football stadium, you cannot fail to be impressed by what Sally and Moussa have achieved.

The Food Hub bustles with enthusiastic volunteers – there are currently 65 on the books – packing bags. They are so well stocked Albie’s eyes grow wider and wider as he surveys the room and takes it all in. There’s a lovely, grounded atmosphere that Sally and Moussa make sure extends to everyone who uses the Hub too.

“We’ve always had a policy of treating people with dignity, we’re not going to be judging anyone,” Sally tells me. “This food’s not ours, we’re just redirecting it. It’s important to put people at ease, because when they come for the first time they’re often embarrassed. We want to get across that there’s no shame, get rid of this false idea of slackers or scroungers that people have consciously or unconsciously absorbed. There’s no standing in a queue and having to explain yourself here.”

And Sally has noted that all kinds of people are using the Food Hub, including those who – pre-Covid19 – would never have dreamed of needing to. It’s a sobering reminder that there but for the (dis) grace of a global pandemic go any of us.

Sally and Moussa had high standards from the off, determined what they supplied would be nutritionally sound.

The local branch of Morrisons helps out with donations when it can, and the Hub gets deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables from Edible London, a local food poverty charity. The bags given out include pasta, rice or noodles, a tin of fish or meat, baked beans, vegetables, bread, milk, soap, toothpaste, sanitary products and nappies if needed. “We wanted to give out a bag of food that we could honestly say would feed people, properly, for a couple of days,” Sally explains.

She brushes off praise for what she and Moussa have done, and incredulity at the speed with which they managed it.
“We’re only alleviating a situation, we’re not solving the problem by any means. The volunteers are key to the whole thing. We were very lucky, they came with the right attitude, let’s get this done.”

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What they’re getting done is so inspiring that people are crossing the lines, coming to the Hub to collect food and ending up staffing it.

Sally reveals, “One guy was self-employed in an industry that dried up when the pandemic hit, and he found himself in a position where he was struggling. His friends were saying you’re entitled, go to the Food Hub. He reluctantly came, and thought what we were doing was brilliant and said I can’t work, I’ve got time on my hands, I want to join you.”

He’s not the only one. After an afternoon seeing The Selby Food Hub in action, Albie has one final question.

“How old do you have to be to work there?”

Selby GoFundMe:  www.gofundme.com/f/coronavirus-appeal-selby-food-hub  
Amazon Wishlist:  amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/1ILCJU7JGOGMB?ref_=wl_share  

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