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News

Looking Forward

We hope the New Year has been treating you well. With vaccination underway, there does seem to be cause for hope. As we’ve said before, we are hoping to transition from an emergency response to a more stable, ongoing operation – though naturally, we are going to remain focused on gaps in the aid infrastructure. 

Despite the roll-out of the vaccination, there is still a lot of suffering in Oxford, and the combination of Covid-19 with economic shocks is producing a difficult and long-term set of problems. 

What Have We Been Doing?

Christmas was a very busy period for us, for obvious reasons. In addition to coping with extra demand due to the Winter, we undertook projects targeted at making Christmas a little more joyful for those we support. Having secured a grant specifically for this purpose we delivered over 1,000 presents to over 200 households. 

As you will be aware, the mental health impact of Covid has been severe. While such projects are not our main focus, we feel that our Christmas projects, like our Ramadan and Eid projects, are important in combating the emotional and psychological effects of social isolation and food precarity.

At the time of writing our numbers are:

  • Regular food parcel and supply support to 223 households, comprising of 672 people (378 adults258 children, and 36 babies)
  • Supporting 65 households with new and expectant mothers, supplying them with formula milk, nappies, etc
  • Over 216 emergency food parcels a month, going to an average household of at least 2 people
  • Ongoing support to 25 households who require support collecting prescriptions, doing shopping, etc
  • The Kitchen Collective is providing reheatable meals to a minimum of 145 households each week

How Did We Spend Donations? 

Spending was up in December. We budgeted for £6,000 and spent £6,794.05. It should be noted, though, that we received a £2,000 grant from SOFEA and Fareshare aimed at Christmas projects and therefore felt comfortable overspending our original budget. 

Budgeting for Sustainability

Recently, the Members of Oxford Mutual Aid Limited met to discuss making the operation sustainable for the long-term. It was agreed that we will need to pay for 1-2 full-time coordinators and also make some capital purchases.

The workload of coordinating the day-to-day activities of the organisation has become immense. It is neither fair nor sustainable to expect that coordination to be undertaken solely by volunteers. More importantly, it creates bottlenecks in the organisation. Our partner organisations and grant awarding bodies have also stated they see a lack of full-time staff as an organisational risk for us. 

Likewise, it is necessary for us to lease – if not purchase – our own van. Sourcing vans on an ad hoc basis creates a lot of work and is another bottleneck in our operation. We now move over 3 tonnes of food and supplies through our warehouse each week, and it is important for everything to flow as smoothly as possible.

We will report back to you in more detail over the next few months. We have always been a very cost-effective – perhaps abstemious – organisation, and we will remain cautious. We will retain our policy of keeping a few months’ worth of operating costs as cash-on-hand, in case of emergencies.

Crucially, we already receive an average income from donations and grants to fund a bigger budget and are confident of increasing that figure if necessary. Our long-term plan is to drive pledged monthly donations, as they make it easier to plan our budgets. 

As usual, all details will be made available to you. 

Looking Past Covid

Like you, we are in a slightly surreal situation – half the country seems to be sighing a breath of relief and the other half is struggling worse than ever. We don’t know the outcome of the vaccination roll out, or when lockdown will really end, and especially not at what point life will return to something approaching normality. 

This is going to be a hard year. There is unlikely to be a clear end point to the current situation, and the problems of food precarity will not go away even if all goes according to plan. However, through your donations and volunteering, OMA is in a position to keep focusing on those who need help and to adapt to what the future holds.

On a lighter note, if you are in need of a pick-me-up, we strongly recommend you follow us on Twitter and Instagram, where we share feedback from volunteers and those we support. 

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News

Getting Ready For 2021

It’s time to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020. We also want to say thank you for all the responses to our Christmas message. As promised, this update covers the facts and figures for this month.

What Are We Doing?

Over December, our figures were:

  • Regular food parcel and supply support to 217 households, comprising of 616 people (346 adults236 children, and 34 babies)
  • Supporting 65 households with new and expectant mothers, supplying them with formula milk, nappies, etc
  • Over 157 emergency food parcels a month, going to an average household of at least 2 people
  • Ongoing support to 25 households who need help collecting prescriptions, doing shopping, etc
  • The Kitchen Collective is providing reheatable meals to 136 households each week, and 40 to Rose Hill Junior Youth Club, as well as ad hoc provision to various homelessness charities, social workers, and to the Oxford City Council housing team. 
  • Over the Christmas period, and in partnership with the Dragon School, we distributed an additional 2,700 meals
  • Since it began, the Kitchen Collective has delivered over 22,500 meals

How Did We Spend Donations?

We have increased our budget for the period of November to January. You can see a breakdown of spending for November below.

Partly, this is due to a very steep increase in demand, and partly this is because this time of year is necessarily the most difficult for people. We also received a £2,000 grant specifically to cover the Christmas period.

Currently, we are the only source of emergency food parcel support that operates 7 days a week. We are trying not to overstretch ourselves, but, equally, we are receiving a lot of urgent referrals from GPs, social workers and Oxford City Council. 

We will revise our budget again in February. We now think we will need to fund at least one full-time coordinator, and we will also need to either purchase or lease a refrigerated van. At the same time we will need to ensure that our operation is sustainable.

Clearly, there needs to be a wider conversation across Oxford about how much it is reasonable to expect volunteer groups to do.

Happy New Year

We wish you a very merry new year, and let’s hope it is a kinder one than 2020. Thank you again for all your support.

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News

Merry Christmas from OMA

For our Christmas message, we wanted to write something different. This has been a hard year, and we know a lot of you have not been able to gather with your loved ones.

We will publish another update with the monthly figures and stats later this month. For now, we just want to say thank you. 

Oxford Mutual Aid began about ten months ago. We were people from different backgrounds: LGBTQ activists, trade unionists, and people from minority ethnic and religious groups. We knew the most at-risk members of our communities were already struggling. We knew they would be hardest hit by Covid, and we wanted to protect, support and empower as many people as we could.

With your help – as volunteers, donors, and advocates – we have grown into the largest provider of emergency support in Oxford. 

We provide food and supply parcels to 204 families a week. This includes 60 households with new or expectant mothers, who need formula milk and nappies. 

The Kitchen Collective provides reheatable meals to a minimum of 136 households every week, primarily the disabled, the elderly, and those living with dementia – those without the ability to cook for themselves. In addition, we provide an additional 50 meals every week to a local organisation that supports children at risk.  Since we began, we have delivered over 20,000 meals.

All of this is in addition to emergency food support requests, most of which come from partner organisations, GPs, Social Workers, or Oxford City Council. We are currently producing 210 emergency food parcels a month. As we enter Tier 4, we are the only source of emergency food support that can deliver 7 days a week. We are regularly getting calls for up to 12 emergency parcels a day, sometimes for families of more than ten people.

We know our updates often contain a lot of dispiriting information about the scale of poverty in Oxford, but we also hope you take pride in being a part of Oxford Mutual Aid. What we have been able to accomplish together is extraordinary.

A special mention should also go to our fantastic case management team, who have helped us to safely support people in very difficult circumstances. These have included those suffering domestic violence and experiencing homelessness. While we cannot share statistics like we can with other programmes, we want to celebrate the incredible work our experienced case management volunteers have done.

It is hard, in an update like this, to make things personal. We cannot tell you individual stories, and there is a limit to what numbers can express.

But what we can say is that through your donation and volunteering, you have helped parents feed their children. You have helped mothers bring their babies into the world. You have helped us bring hot meals to isolated and elderly people, and you have helped get emergency food supplies to those suffering from homelessness.

The New Year

Hopefully, a vaccine will bring considerable relief. But this crisis isn’t over. In fact, we think it is no longer helpful to think of the fallout from Covid-19 as an acute crisis. The economic, health, and social effects will persist long after a vaccine is available.

Thousands upon thousands of families are now without breadwinners, and many businesses that provided employment have closed. Social services are still chronically underfunded, and the fact that so many public services refer people to us is a reminder that the aid infrastructure in Oxford is simply overloaded.

Over the Summer, we worked hard to turn OMA into an organisation that could handle what we thought would be a hard Winter. Over the next few months, we will work to turn OMA into an organisation that can sustain itself over the long term.

For now, we just want to say thank you for being a part of OMA. We hope that wherever you are, whether you are celebrating Christmas with family or alone, you take some joy in being part of this community and some pride in what it has accomplished.

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News

We need your help

Together, this community of volunteers supports over 2,000 people a month. We are providing regular support to over 300 families, and to 37 families with new and expectant mothers. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped out.

OMA began as an emergency response to Covid-19: we wanted to support people who had nowhere else to go, and try to signpost them to organisations who could provide longer term support. But things have changed, and it’s clear we need to keep operating for the foreseeable future.

Many community larders have started charging again, and the Council has ended its emergency food support. Lots of families cannot afford these charges, and they still need help. OMA has been working hard to make itself more sustainable, so that we are ready to keep going through the Winter.

But to do that, we need your help. Starting from October, we will need to start paying rent for our distribution centre. As emergency food support ends, we will also need to start buying more food.

Regular, monthly donations would really, really help us do that. Knowing that we have £5 or £20 coming in each month from a supporter makes it much easier for us to plan our finances and commit to signing contracts.

OMA is a community led organisation. None of us get paid, and we are all working hard to make sure no one in Oxford is left behind. All over our city, there are people who need help: families who aren’t getting enough food, elderly people who aren’t able to cook for themselves, and parents who don’t have formula milk for their babies.

If you can, we would really appreciate you committing to a regular donation. If everyone reading this were to donate, Oxford Mutual Aid would be able to keep providing support for as long as people need it.

Supporter – £5 a month

Means enough petrol for a day’s worth of delivering food parcels to families living in food poverty

Champion – £20 a month

Means enough formula milk to last a mother and her baby for two weeks

Hero – £50 a month

Means enough containers to deliver two hundred reheatable meals to the elderly and those living with dementia

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News

Getting Ready for Autumn

Apologies for another slightly delayed update. Things have been very busy at Oxford Mutual Aid recently, but the hard work is paying off, and we have a lot of good news to share. 

What Have We Been Doing?

As we explained previously, we are trying to make OMA as sustainable as possible. That has meant a lot of organizing, form-filling, and making our daily work a bit more efficient. Thanks to some fantastic new volunteers, we are now able to support more people than ever. We have also moved our base of operations from St. Albans Hall to the Richard Benson Hall on Cowley Road, thanks to the generosity of St Mary and St John Church.

Some key highlights include:

  • We are sending out 120 food parcels a week, with each designed to see a family of 4 through 7 days
  • Our Kitchen Collective is delivering 750 meals a week, thanks to our wonderful partners, Lady Margaret Hall and the King’s Centre. 
  • By the end of this week, the Kitchen Collective is projected to have delivered a total of 8,000 meals
  • This week, we will begin including reusable masks in our food parcels  
  • As of the end of July we were supporting over 300 Oxford families 

How Did We Spend Donations? 

We’ve been able to reduce costs considerably over the last few months. In May, we set a budget of £3,400 a month. In June, we spent £2,070, and in July we spent £2,359. It is worth noting that of July’s expenses, a combined £998 was spent on an annual insurance policy and legal advice regarding incorporation. Our monthly running costs for July were well under £2,000.

Our weekly bulk purchases consist mainly of food, but also other necessary supplies like nappies. ‘Request Management’ refers to specific items that someone we support needs and which we do not currently have in stock. 

The Case Management and Kitchen Collective teams each have their own budgets, and ‘Emergency Shop’ refers to situations where it has been necessary to shop for someone rather than supply them with food parcels. ‘Others’ includes any items not budgeted for that month, which could range from fridge thermometers to shelving. 

We do not means test those who ask us for support. In order to continue offering aid to anyone who needs it, we have needed to build up relationships with other organisations to source food. 

Thanks to the incredible generosity of both SOFEA and the Oxford Food Bank, we are now able to source almost all our non-perishable goods for free, which has taken a big chunk out of our costs. 

Our thanks also go to Oxford City Council for providing us with a truck to collect food from the Oxford Food Bank, and to Good Food Oxford, whose online forums were instrumental in setting up this arrangement. 

What Are We Doing About Incorporation? 

As we said previously, Oxford Mutual Aid has grown to the size where it needs to incorporate. We were initially considering becoming a Community Interest Company, but we have since been advised that it will be easier and quicker to incorporate as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. 

When we do incorporate, we will post our Articles of Association here. Needless to say, we will still be 100% volunteer run. We will continue to post all expenses on Open Collective, together with receipts, so you are confident your donations are being spent wisely. 

We have also expanded our Oversight Committee to 7 people, to better distribute the workload. For OMA to be sustainable, we need it to be easy for volunteers to take on more or less as their circumstances change, and we are working hard to build a flexible structure.

What Next?

September will be a challenging month. While the furlough scheme has been extended, schools and universities are currently scheduled to re-open as normal. As many of our volunteers are students and teachers, this means we need to train new volunteers and prepare to make any necessary adjustments to the way we operate. 

Like you, we have been watching the news closely. While the UK has yet to experience a second wave, it seems sensible to anticipate an increase in Covid cases over the next few months. We are also concerned about how the colder, wetter weather of Autumn and Winter will affect the elderly and immunocompromised in our communities, and what that added strain on the NHS will mean in terms of Covid-19. 

While the Autumn will be challenging, it is truly amazing how much has been accomplished by our volunteers and partner organizations. Increasingly, people from all over Oxford are coming together to work out how to protect their different communities. We are confident we can continue to support one another, whatever the next few months hold.

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Best Practice News

Protect Your Neighbours

On the 24th August, the ban on evictions is ending. All over Oxford, the people who have kept our city going – from NHS staff to key workers to those caring for loved ones – are facing the prospect of homelessness. 

Oxford is one of the UK’s most expensive cities to rent in, and it was experiencing a homelessness crisis even before the pandemic. This coming wave of evictions is predicted to make 45,000 households homeless nationally, and it is going to hit Oxford hard. 

The last few months have put a crippling pressure on people’s finances, and an increasing number of Oxford families simply will not be able to pay their rent and feed themselves at the same time. In the current emergency, eviction poses a serious risk to their lives.

ACORN is a nationwide Community Union with extensive expertise in preventing evictions. The Oxford branch has been working with Oxford Mutual Aid to help those struggling with their housing situation during the pandemic.  

On 1st August, ACORN will be running eviction resistance training, and Oxford Mutual Aid is encouraging anyone who is interested to attend.

The online  training will take place on Saturday 1 August 4:00 – 5:30 pm, and will cover: 

  • An introduction to the different types of eviction 
  • The legal background to evictions 
  • How to safely and legally prevent evictions

The training will be on an online meeting platform called Zoom – many of you are probably already familiar with it. To join the training, register on Eventbrite. You will then receive a link that allows you to register for the Zoom meeting.

After your training, you will have an opportunity to become involved in local groups – you will also be invited to access more training and support from ACORN staff.

If you’re not confident using Zoom, or need any support joining the training, give the committee a ring at 07845 636685, or send an email to oxford@acorncommunities.org.uk

We hope to see you there.

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News

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. 

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News

Covid-19 and Homelessness

The pandemic has driven some problems out of sight. We are used to seeing homeless people in Oxford, but during the lockdown, it is a reality most of us no longer need to confront on a daily basis.

The truth is that few groups have been hit as hard as those without a home. For anyone without permanent shelter, Covid-19 has been a terrifying ordeal

Why is Homelessness Such a Problem?

Even before the pandemic, many people in Oxford were without a home. The city is a hub for services many homeless people rely on, but funding cuts have reduced the ability of charities and community groups trying to get help to those who need it. With less help available, more people are forced to sleep rough.

This is part of a national trend. In 2019, it was estimated that there had been a 23% increase in the number of homeless households since 2018.

Oxford is also a notoriously expensive city to rent in, which greatly exacerbates the problem. A recent study ranked Oxford as the the 3rd most expensive city in the UK in terms of rent. On average people in Oxford spend 32% of their salary simply to keep a roof over their heads.

The stigma around homelessness masks a grim reality: it is very, very easy to end up sleeping rough. In 2018, an ING survey found that around 27% of British households had no emergency savings. For many of us, even those who may feel secure, it only takes a run of bad luck for homelessness to become a real possibility.

Homelessness During Covid-19

This has been a very frightening time for homeless people. Organisations many rely on have had to re-think the way they operate, while various charities have had to shut down entirely.

Obviously, homeless people are at a greater risk of catching Covid-19. But there are knock-on effects beyond this. For those lucky enough to have found somewhere to stay, there are still the issues of food, medicine, and other necessary supplies.

To make matters worse, the lockdown has itself caused an explosion in youth homelessness. It is also likely that the situation is about to get much worse.

Currently, there is a moratorium on evictions. However, this will end in June, and the government has not confirmed whether or not the moratorium will be extended. If it is not, with at least 2 million people now unemployed, many more people will find themselves without a home.

What Have We Been Doing?

There are many fantastic organisations who work on homeless issues in Oxford. We have been working with many of them to deal with the challenges posed by Covid-19.

  • We are working with the Oxford Homeless Movement to support 130 people in temporary accommodation and have provided toiletries, books, clothing, puzzle books, and tea and coffee supplies.
  • We are providing weekly deliveries of fruit to the Gatehouse for distribution among the vulnerably housed.
  • Our Kitchen Collective is making twice weekly deliveries of re-heatable meals to people temporarily housed in the Lismore Hotel in Banbury.
  • We have provided the Mayday Trust and Response with toiletries, cleanings supplies, face masks, DVDs and books for those in supported accommodation.
  • OxWash is laundering bedding, which we then distribute to various organizations. We are also providing these organizations with clothes for the precariously housed.
  • We have found emergency short term accommodation for 12 homeless people who were unable to access elsewhere

What Next?

We are hoping to start making care packages for homeless people and the precariously housed. In addition, we want to be able to offer sun hats and reusable water bottles in preparation for the Summer heat.

If you’d like to get involved, we are always looking for new volunteers – you can also donate, and help us source the supplies we need.


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News

The Kitchen Collective Steps Up

The Kitchen Collective is our new program aimed at supplying cooked meals to those in need during the Covid-19 crisis. While we also deliver food parcels, there is no substitute for a hot meal, and that’s not something everyone can take for granted. 

We want to thank all the individuals and groups who have already joined the Kitchen Collective. As of today, we are producing around 500 meals a week: these go to the elderly, homeless people in temporary accommodation, and children who would normally receive free school meals.  

Why is the Kitchen Collective Necessary?

New data from the Food Foundation has found that almost a fifth of UK households with children have been unable to access enough food in the past five weeks, with meals being skipped and children not getting enough to eat. Families who were already at risk are now battling isolation and a loss of income.

The strain on larger families, single parent homes and those with disabled children has been immense. A reported 30% of lone parents and 46% of parents with a disabled child are facing food insecurity and finding it difficult to manage basic nutritional needs at home. With schools no longer providing a reprieve for children reliant on free breakfast clubs and school lunches, poorer families are at crisis point.

In addition, the number of food insecure adults is estimated by the Food Foundation to have quadrupled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Older adults are particularly affected, as this is a time when support networks such as AGE UK have been unable to operate as normal, and going to the shops may be high risk or even impossible. Often, people who use these services also face difficulties cooking for themselves. This has compounded food insecurity in this demographic.

How We Got Started 

We were concerned that providing food shops and parcels from our food larder was not enough to meet the needs of some at-risk groups. More needed to be done to ensure that people had access to appropriate food resources.

So, on Friday 1st May, we launched our first Kitchen Collective programme in partnership with AGE UK, Dementia Oxfordshire, Cutteslowe Primary school and University College. 150 meals were delivered on that day, with a further 170 on Tuesday 5th May, and deliveries have continued twice weekly. 

Since then, the Cherwell Boathouse and St Anne’s college have begun contributing meals, taking our total up to nearly 500 meals per week. Jesus College, Wadham College and Christ Church have also joined the scheme by providing financial sponsorship. 

TVR Self-Drive and Talkington Bates have lent us vans and coolboxes, which our volunteer delivery drivers use to deliver meals three or more days per week. We have worked hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly and to avoid food waste, finding homes for surplus meals by coordinating with other areas of our work, including our Ramadan project.

This has been a truly collaborative initiative, bringing together support organisations and local businesses across the county. Whilst we provide ingredients and coordinate delivery, the food suppliers provide kitchen spaces and professional kitchen teams. Schools, charities and community groups help us to identify and supply at-risk groups.

Oxford Mutual Aid is very proud of our connections with a wide range of other organisations, who have enabled us to provide far-reaching support, and root our efforts in Oxfordshire’s local communities.

What Has the Response Been?

We have had some very positive feedback from meal recipients. One lead Dementia adviser told us “The food is absolutely amazing… my clients are so grateful to everyone, especially the chefs and delivery drivers.”

One meal recipient also wrote to us about the impact of the meals, saying, “Your gift of hot meals at a time of loneliness and desperation has cheered me up so much. Because it isn’t just the food: the love and kindness that comes with it are helping me so much. When you live entirely alone, you don’t feel strong enough to demand help or company and this is where people fall through the cracks”

However, as we are seeking to scale this operation over time, we require access to additional kitchen space and funding for food supplies. We want to ensure people in food poverty across all age ranges have access to hot meals.

What Next?

We are deeply grateful to all the volunteers, partners, and donors at each level of our supply chain. Their kindness has enabled us to reach those who need help the most.

But demand is growing as the effects of the pandemic, lockdown, and economic downturn get worse. We don’t want to turn down anyone in need, and that means we need to increase our capacity.  

We are looking to get more partners on board, to help us ensure Oxford continues to come together to keep everyone supported and healthy during this unprecedented crisis. We are working on partnering with more schools, building relationships with more restaurants and food suppliers, and further developing a supportive network. 

If you are interested in getting involved, please do get in touch. These are difficult times, but if we come together, we know we can  significantly reduce food insecurity in Oxford.

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News

Eid Mubarak!

Tomorrow is Eid, and as Ramadan draws to a close, it’s time for us to say thank you to everyone who has been working to help people celebrate despite the lockdown. The Muslim community is a huge part of Oxford life, and of Oxford Mutual Aid as well, and we hope everyone has a fantastic Eid. 

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which many Muslims observe a fast from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of reflection and prayer, but it is also very important to community life. Each night, people break their fast with a meal called an iftar, usually starting with dates.

The iftar is often a communal event, and during the evenings it’s common to see many people coming together to eat and celebrate. The last day of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul Fitr, commonly known as Eid, and it is one of the two most important Islamic holidays.

In other words, Ramadan is a big deal. Like Christmas or Passover, it binds families and communities together. 

Ramadan 2020

It’s hard to celebrate as a community when you can’t leave the house. As soon as everyone began to realize how long lockdown would last, it was clear we would need to think creatively to help people observe Ramadan this year. 

There are many fantastic community groups in Oxford who have been doing just that, and we are very proud to have worked with them over the last month.They include the Oxford Homeless Project, Oxford Community Action, Syrian Sisters, Iraqi Women Art and War Community Group, Oxford Eid Extravaganza, and BAPs Oxford.

What Have We Been Doing?

Nabila Qureshi has been helping to lead our Ramadan projects at OMA, and she has been working with the Syrian Sisters, Oxford Community Action and the Oxford Homeless Project to ensure that people are supported as they can be during lockdown. A key focus has been making sure people have access to halal meals. 

Ramadan Homecook Programme

OMA been offering support to some of our most vulnerable Muslim families by providing them with home cooked meals made by OMA volunteers, with all meals being both Halal and nut-free. Volunteers cook for between 10-30 people one day a week and recipients receive food at least twice a week. OMA provides reheatable packaging and food supplies, and distributes between 150 – 200 meals a week. 

The Grand Iftar

Each year, the Muslim community in Oxford organizes a Grand Iftar. It is a hugely important event, and it was clear that organizing it during a pandemic was going to be challenging. 

This year, Oxford Mutual Aid worked together with the Oxford Homeless Project, Oxford Community Action, BAPs Oxford and Oxford City Council to prepare and distribute over 2,200 meals.

Doing this all safely involved a lot of careful planning. Logan Hamilton was the OMA project lead, and she mapped out a plan to transform the East Oxford Community Centre into a food preparation and distribution centre that would adhere to social distancing.

Around 300 of the meals went to the Porch and other homeless people in and around Oxford. The rest were distributed by a fleet of drivers that had to be timed with great precision. With over 500 stops to get through, it would not have been possible without these volunteer drivers giving up their entire day.

Eid Extravaganza 

OMA is again teaming up with a number of groups around Oxford to celebrate Eid. Working with Oxford Homeless Project, Oxford Eid Extravaganza, Populate, Oxfordshire Kindness Wave, Oxford Community Action, Oxford City Council, Iraqi Women Art and War, Dementia Oxfordshire and Nemesis, OMA will deliver Eid Treats to thousands of people around the city and county. 

These parcels are filled with sweets, cakes, baklavas, biscuits and much more, much of which has been kindly donated by local businesses. There will be over 650 stops this weekend, so we want to highlight the amazing work of our volunteer drivers again. 

What Next?

We are incredibly grateful to all the people and groups who have worked with us over Ramadan, and we know we will all be working together closely in the months to come. This is a strange and unsettled time, but we will get through it together. We are always looking for new volunteers and new partnerships, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.