Life After Lockdown

Apologies for this slightly delayed monthly update. There has been a lot of activity in the last few weeks, and we wanted to include it in this newsletter. 

Like the rest of the UK, Oxford is adjusting to what is likely to be a long period of uncertainty. Whatever measures are or are not taken in the next few weeks, though, there is still a lot of urgent work to be done to keep everyone in our communities safe. 

With your help, OMA has been making itself more sustainable. We are now planning for the difficulties posed by the lifting of restrictions, as well as the economic impact of the pandemic. 

What Are We Doing? 

We are now regularly supporting 237 households, who rely on us for food and other essential supplies. In addition, here are some recent highlights: 

  • Our Kitchen Collective is now delivering 700 reheatable meals a week. These go to Age UK and Dementia Oxfordshire clients, as well as children who would normally receive free school meals and other at-risk or food insecure households around the city and county. This is run in partnership with Cutteslowe Primary school, University College, Cherwell Boathouse, St Anne’s college, Talkington Bates, SOFEA, Oxford Food Bank and the King’s Centre, with donations from Jesus College, Wadham College and Christ Church.
  • We are working with the Oxford Homeless Movement to support 130 people in temporary accommodation.
  • We worked with a variety of organizations to help Oxford’s Muslim community during Ramadan. Our volunteers organized both the Eid Extravaganza and the Grand Iftar – during the former, 313 families received food, and on the latter, 2,200 meals were delivered in one day.
  • We now have 7 experienced case managers, who are handling 25 active cases referred to us by GPs, social workers, and charities. These can be very complex cases, ranging from domestic abuse to those living with homelessness. As ever, we do not want to replicate existing services – we focus on those who are, for whatever reason, unable to access support elsewhere.
  • Our mask-making project has produced over 700 reusable, machine-washable masks. This project was started by an NHS worker, and we are currently concentrating on providing masks to NHS staff, teachers, and care home workers, many of whom still have no PPE. We hope to increase production over the next few months.

How Did We Spend Donations?

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of our budget goes on food. You can check the details for yourself on this platform, but in May we spent £3,820 from the general funds raised on Open Collective. 

This excludes: 

  • £1,050 free store credit from the Co-Op. 
  • Donations toward the Kitchen Collective. These are donated to and are administered by our partners, with OMA providing delivery and overall coordination. We also occasionally top up the food supply when necessary from our general funds.

As of last Monday we spent a total of £6,873.32 of the funds raised on Open Collective. You can see a breakdown below:

We formed Oxford Mutual Aid in the middle of a crisis and without any infrastructure of our own in place.Our priority was helping people who, for whatever reason, struggled to access help from other sources.Where possible, we directed people to agencies or charities who could supply them with food parcels – when it was not possible, we had to purchase food ourselves.

In the beginning, we were forced to shop for those in need on an individual basis. This is a very expensive way of operating, and as we built up our own infrastructure and developed relationships with food banks, we moved towards bulk purchases of food in order to make and distribute food parcels. 

‘Mixed Shops’ refers to receipts for shops that included both food and other supplies, e.g. medicine. ‘Projects’ indicates money spent on specific projects, for example our Ramadan projects. ‘Accommodation’ costs were incurred when we had to rent accommodation for homeless people who were struggling to access help from other sources. ‘Other’ includes a refrigerator to let us store food, boxes for the same purpose, and a one-off donation of puzzle books to those in temporary shelter. 

Improving Cost Efficiency 

As we said in our last update, we are shifting from an emergency response to a more sustainable model. We now have a warehouse to store food and other supplies, as well as access to wholesalers for bulk buying. 

We have moved away from shopping for those in need – we have built up relationships with SOEFA, the Oxford Food Bank and other organizations, and are now concentrating on food parcels as our main method of supporting those living in food precarity. With help from other organizations, we source food and create parcels designed to see a household through 7 days.

This is much more cost efficient. A weekly shop for a family of 4 would typically cost around £30 – £50. A food parcel, designed to last a family of 4 for a week, costs around £15.

We now have a projected budget of £3,400 per month. You can see a breakdown of costs below. 

As you can see, we will spend most of our money on bulk purchases of food for food parcels and non-food, e.g. baby supplies. Case Managers, who often have to deal with emergencies, have their own budget, and the Kitchen Collective will need a little money to supplement supplies. There will inevitably be some cases where we need to buy things for people on a one-off basis, though we want to keep that to a minimum.

Needless to say, we will have to adapt to reality. Should the situation or demand change, we will need to revisit our spending plans. 

What Next?

We are coordinating closely with community groups, charities, and local government, as well as other mutual aid groups. The only thing we can be certain of is that a lot of people will need help, and that providing it is going to be harder than in the pre-Covid-19 world.

We are currently applying for grants to help us over the longer term future. We also plan to incorporate as a Community Interest Company, limited by guarantee – this would allow us to use an asset lock to reassure all donors that donations would be spent according to our aims and objectives. 

Can I Get Involved?

Yes! Last month we asked for volunteers, and we have since welcomed some amazing people into our team. A few of us will need to work for OMA full-time, but our model relies on volunteers working on a rota, and so we will always be on the lookout for people who can commit some time.

At the moment, we are particularly keen to find:

  • Drivers who can deliver our Kitchen Collective meals on a regular basis. If you have access to a refrigerated van or cooler boxes, that would be ideal. The shifts are as follows
  • Monday: 2PM – 6PM
  • Tuesday 11AM – 4PM
  • Wednesday 2PM – 6PM
  • Thursday 2PM – 6PM
  • Friday 12PM – 5PM
  • People with experience in storage, stocktaking, distribution and logistics. 
  • People with administrative and data management experience.
  • Chefs with a food and safety hygiene certification

Final Thoughts 

Obviously, this is a confusing and frightening time. As the months pass, compassion fatigue will become more and more of an issue, especially as the continuing uncertainty takes its toll.

We hope it heartens you to think of the hard work being done by fantastic groups all over Oxford. There are plenty of news stories about how the pandemic has brought out the worst in some – it is easy to forget that it has brought out the best in others.

As we have said before, many OMA volunteers also receive aid from the organisation. Collectively, we are all worried about the same things: health, money, our families, and what the future might look like.

All we can do is concentrate on the job that is in front of us. If Oxford comes together, there is no reason why we cannot ensure one another’s well-being over the coming months.

As ever, if you or a loved one are in difficulty, we are only a telephone call away.