Lewes community action against food poverty

A group of musicians, dressed in colourful outfits, outside a supermarket.

The Magnificent Kevens open a day of brass, folk, ukelele and classical music during the food bank collection at Aldi. Photo credit: Nigel French

On Saturday 12 December, Lewes’ shoppers responded to the problem of food poverty by donating an astonishing 7,002 items of food and household products, up from the 5,661 items collected at Halloween. Labour’s Mark Perryman organised the 12-hour effort, which included entertainment from many of the town’s gifted performers.

This was the sixth, most successful, and most colourful, tuneful and joyful such event this year. It was supported by hundreds of volunteers from charities, clubs, bonfire societies, faith, political and cultural groups as well as individuals and Labour Party members; each gave an hour of their time to the collection of goods. Witty placards on a Christmas theme reminded shoppers to put something extra in their trollies: ‘But not a partridge in a pear tree’.

A woman holding a placard that reads: But not 'a Partridge in a Pear Tree' Christmas food banks collection. Please add one item from the list below and help ensure that next week food banks can make an extra special Christmas delivery to all households they supply: mince pies, Christmas puddings, boxes of chocolates, chocolate coins. Please hand in to our stall on exiting the store. Thanks! Helping feed our community through the coronavirus crisis.

Kath Kane was one of almost 400 helpers doing their one-hour shifts at the food bank collection. Photo credit: Nigel French

Entertainment galore

Thirteen choirs, five local bands and seven panto casts added joy to the effort to defeat food poverty at Christmas. From the Glyndebourne chorus to baroque singers, Aladdin and a Golden Goose, to ska tunes, folk music and ukuleles – the breadth of local talent was impressive.

Choirs sang to Waitrose queues while punters at Tesco were treated to a glimpse of panto. Louise, the principal boy from St Mary’s Panto, was accompanied by Lucy, who was either a princess or Cinderella. Another principal boy, having taken the wrong turn, ended up at Waitrose and obligingly held the placard for a bit. Dick Whittington and his Cat, aka Phil and Katy, encouraged shoppers at Tesco. Barnaby and his dad from the rugby club took full bags to the food banks. Many shoppers volunteered later in the day, such as Ray from Lewes Priory Cricket Club and Sian from the choir Pro Musica.

Photo credits: Nigel French, Karen Dobres, Lewes Hockey Club, Ginny Smith, Mark Perryman, Jo-Anne Sunderland Bowe

All the helpers received a badge created by local designer Sophie Gibson, sporting the words ‘Sport, Bonfire, Faith, Politics, Culture, Community.’ A Lewes rugby team member pinned his next to his club badge. “That’s exactly what our coalition has brought together in 2020, not just local rugby but right across Lewes society,” he said.

What Lewes shoppers said

Many Lewesians wanted to donate festive food rather than staple items. Shopper Rob said that he had forgotten to add anything extra but swiftly rifled through his trolley to donate Christmas pud and masses of crisps and everyday foodstuffs.

People found it helpful to be reminded what they could give. Everyday items were donated but one man, loaded with mince pies and bags of chocolate coins, hoped that children would have more than the basics this Christmas.

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Heaping chocolates into the basket, another said: “One can do without the necessities if one has the little luxuries. I bought chocolate because it tastes nice and I like it and so do children.”

In the words of Ramona, the Big Issue seller outside Waitrose: “I love this town and the people are close to each other.”

The big picture

What with Covid, looming mass employment and the threat of a no-deal Brexit, this was a day to celebrate what is good and generous in human nature; support those who are struggling, confront poverty with acts of love and kindness; and bring hope to those who feel forgotten.

Mark described the initiative as “a visual and public coalition – now with sound added too! – helping to feed our community through the coronavirus crisis.”

A man and a woman looking enthusiastically at boxes, bags and stacks of food items.

Debbie Twitchen and Jonathan Tait of Landport food bank celebrate the first of their deliveries from the collection. Photo: Mark Perryman

This month’s food collection surpassed the organisers’ expectations. Sadly, though, the need for a community coalition against food poverty looks unlikely to disappear.

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