“PEOPLE don’t stop being hungry during the holidays, do they?”
That’s the view of Anna Rogerson, one of the team of volunteers running Wokingham’s Grub Club. The project is urging families whose children usually have free school dinners and need support during the half-term to get in touch. As well as food, it can offer a listening ear, a helping hand and a chance to access additional support.
The scheme launched last year, in time for the summer holidays. It initially provided ready-cooked nutritious meals and fun activities for families who needed a helping hand. It has adapted this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, switching to delivering meals and ingredients so that no one goes hungry.
It expects to serve 4,000 meals before the end of the year.
Based out of Norreys Church, the scheme has led to offshoots: there are similar schemes in other parts of the borough including the Woodley Lunch Bunch, and SHARE Wokingham helps share surplus food – often restaurant quality – for those who need it.
It is also part of the One Front Door support network, backed by Wokingham Borough Council, that has run throughout the lockdown and beyond. The scheme sees residents who need help, be it emotional or practical, call Citizens Advice on 0300 330 1189. Volunteers listen and direct the caller to the help they need.
The Grub Club takes referrals from Citizens Advice and Wokingham Borough Council, and also accepts requests for support via its Facebook page.
Anna admits that she was surprised that parliament voted against an extension of the scheme that saw families who were eligible for free school dinners receive vouchers to allow them to receive additional food during holidays through to Easter next year.
The scheme had been championed by footballer Marcus Rashford and had been in place during the summer.
“It’s just a bit of a mystery to be honest,” she says of the MPs’ verdict. “I think most of us are struggling to understand the logic.
“People don’t stop being hungry in the holidays, do they? Either they’re saying that people stop being hungry in the holidays or they don’t need food. Those arguments don’t really hold true.”
The Grub Club was launched by Norreys Church after they had identified that there was a need for such a scheme within Wokingham borough.
“It was a response to the need of holiday hunger,” Anna says. “It’s been a bit humbling and overwhelming being able to help people, and also the amount of help that has come forward.
“Obviously we’ve had to do things a bit differently this year, we have delivered the food, and delivered ingredients for people to cook the meals, which they absolutely love.
“The amount of the support from the community – from restaurants, from food suppliers and supermarkets like Aldi, all providing food for us, that’s very humbling, as is seeing the response from people this week. You can see from social media that people have really stepped up and stepped in to help families in need.
“We live among so much generosity.
“But there is clearly a need and it’s going to continue. While it’s there, we’ll continue to step in and provide the Grub Club.”
Anna says that if people want help or want to help, they should make contact via the Grub Club’s Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, regardless of where they live – because the different groups work closely together they can match enquirers with their nearest network.
“A big part of it, and we think it’s really important, is not just providing that immediate need, but also signposting people to additional help,” Anna says. “We can have these conversations to ensure that their whole needs are met. We do make referrals to places like the Cowshed, School Days and Citizens Advice, because they provide help in so many different ways and different areas.
“We want to help meet the immediate need, and help to empower people so that their lives are better, consistently better, going forward, not just in the crisis. We think that’s really, really important.”
Anna says that the Grub Club’s focus on the bigger picture matters because for some, asking for help is hard. “People don’t want to be in that position,” she explains. “We’ve seen it, especially during the pandemic. So many people have lost their jobs and just not been in that position before. They have no idea about benefits, their rights or what to do with a lot of that.
“People do want to be empowered to run their own lives and to get the best out of it. We say it’s important that we help.”
Demand for the Grub Club has soared. Last year it served around 450 meals over the summer, but this summer it was around 2,000. By the time they get to Christmas, they expect that figure to double. With additional clubs in other parts of Wokingham, it’s clear there is a pressing need to help.
“We have seen demand definitely increase as times have got harder and the restrictions have continued,” Anna says. “It’s coming up to the end of October (and the end of the furlough scheme) and we’ll see a lot more people lose their jobs. It will definitely increase demand.
“The Grub Club really, really ask people who need help to come forward, whether they’re struggling with food, school uniform, their jobs, anything from clothes, toiletries, we can help. People can come forward and not worry about it – just come forward for help.”
Anna says that her motivation comes from her Christian faith and desire to help the community.
“I want everyone to live their life the best that they can, and I want to give back to the community,” she says. “I want to see people thrive.”
One of the problems with running a scheme that gives things away is that you need a constant supply to meet the demand. The Grub Club welcomes bags for use in delivering the parcels of food. And looking ahead to the end of the year, they hope to receive donations of Christmas items for festive meals.
“Please contact us, something we want to avoid is duplication with others,” Anna says.
And money is also welcomed that the Grub Club has to buy some ingredients or items for activities that go with the meals. While much of the food is donated, there are some items that need to be purchased.
Anna is hugely grateful for the support of so many – “We have some amazing volunteers, they are brilliant,” she says. “We wouldn’t be able to do anything without them.”
And she’s also grateful to Marcus Rashford for raising awareness of the issue of food poverty, prompting the parliamentary vote and helping raise awareness of restaurants, cafes and supermarkets that have stepped forward to offer meals during this week’s half-term.
“This is the first time in my memory that this has been raised on a big, national level,” she says. “I honestly find it incredible, and humbling.
“It makes you so proud that so many people have reacted to the vote in this way.
“But you know, let’s keep lobbying, let’s keep plugging away and keep doing that until the government changes its mind.”
For more details, or to access help, log on to https://www.facebook.com/thegrubclubwoky/