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The Crisis Isn’t Over

OMA is still working hard to meet a high level of need, and we need your help. Read on for an update on our recent activities, and how you can support us.

We are currently receiving requests for and delivering over 80 Emergency Food Parcels a Week 

Many of these are direct referrals from Oxford City Council and St Mungo’s. These are people who really do need help, and we don’t want to turn them away.

That means we really need your helpIf you’re not, please consider making a regular donation to OMA.

£20 a month is enough to supply a family in need for a month.

If you’re already a monthly donor – thank you! – or if you can’t afford to become one, please help us spread the word.


The Good News and the Bad News

It looks like Covid is under control for the moment. The bad news is that its economic effects on the most vulnerable people are getting worse. 

Many relief efforts are being scaled back. That means that people who are still in need have fewer places to go. 


While we cannot take on any more families for regular support, we remain the only emergency food service operational 7 days a week.

Unfortunately, that means we are receiving a lot of new requests, often from local government or charities. 


We do not receive additional funds to help cover emergency requests. On top of our existing commitments the extra work and expense is putting us under a real strain. 


What Are We Doing?

As of today we are providing: 

  • 323 emergency food parcels a month, going to 619 adults, 278 children, 65 babies.
  • Regular food and supply parcels to 311 households, going to 469 adults, 290 children, and 54 babies.
  • 650 Kitchen Collective meals a week to over 200 households. 

How Did We Spend Donations?

Spending was £9,246.24 in February, and £10,118.0 in March. 

For reference, the term Hall is used to include all the fridges, label makers, and other items needed to safely store and distribute food.


Budgeting

As we said in our last update, our long-term strategy is to increase monthly pledged donations. The added strain of emergency parcels makes that more urgent, but we can get there with your help.

That said, we are faced with a difficult choice. We anticipated extra costs from staffing, but the influx of emergency parcels makes it hard to set budgets.

Basically, we need to spend more, make more parcels, and move more parcels across the city at short notice, on top of our existing operation. 

We do not want to downsize our operation, but we also need to be sustainable. We will need to see how much we can increase pledged donations over May and then assess what sort of budget we can commit to.

How Can You Help?

Our focus right now is simple – we need to get enough pledged donations to let us keep doing what we’re doing.

Thank you to all of you who are already monthly donors. If you’re not, please consider making a regular donation.

£20 a month is enough to supply a family in need for a month.
If you’re already a monthly donor, or if you can’t afford to become one right now, you can still help by spreading the word. 

It would really help us out if you could send this blog post to 3 people you know in Oxford who care about supporting the community. 

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News

One Year On

Just over a year ago, the country went into lockdown.
Oxford Mutual Aid formed as different groups pulled together: trade unionists, LGBTQ activists, and local community organizers, to name a few.


We knew how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and we could see Covid was going to make life a lot harder. We needed to plug the gaps in the system and get people the food, supplies, and support they needed.

It has been a hard year for everyone. Many of us have lost friends and family. We love them, and we miss them. Many of us have lost our jobs and are struggling to pay our bills. 

But together, we have built something important. OMA has become one of the biggest support providers in the city and the only source of emergency food support that operates 7 days a week. 

We hope you take pride in being part of OMA. This is a unique organisation, based on neighbours helping neighbours:

“Thank you so much, that food parcel you made up for me  …Perfect!!! It shows you care. You’re a real lifeline for me.”

“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.”

“You are life savers both mentally and physically. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

There are challenges coming. With the furlough scheme coming to an end, life is going to get harder for a lot of families.

First though, we wanted to share what we’ve accomplished this  year:

Together, we have been able to respond to increasing requests for help. Right now, over 1,300 people across Oxford are getting support every week, including 540 children.

  • Over 250 households every week receive regular food parcels and other essentials supplies including baby products (nappies, formula, wipes), toiletries and cleaning products 
  • Several hundred cooked meals are delivered to over 150 households a week.
  • Over 250 emergency food parcels every month, to families who simply have no food, referred to us by GPs, social workers or the Council.

But there are still more people in need of support. Right now, we have a waiting list of over 100 households in need of regular food support. 

In addition, OMA is the only source of emergency food support that operates 7 days a week in Oxford city and county. This week, we will have fulfilled close to 100 on the day requests for emergency food support.

Nearly one fifth of these requests came from statutory bodies or other charities and organisations. This will quickly become unsustainable without more funds for delivery and distribution as well as for food supply. We are working very hard to maintain this essential service. 

To make sure we can maintain a reliable service to people, we are now paying two coordinators, on the Oxford Living Wage, and have costs of hiring a hall and van hire, to collect and store donations of food and supplies when they are offered. 

Three things I need to ask of you, if you can please help.

1. Please consider making a regular, monthly donation.

Monthly donations are really important for us. They let us know how much money we can expect to come in next month and the month after – relying on one-off donations makes it very hard for us to plan in advance.

It takes less than 30 seconds to set up a monthly donation of £5, and you can do it here.  

2. Volunteer!
Right now, a shortage of driving volunteers is the main reason we can’t reach those 100 households on our waiting list. If you can spare a few hours, whether regularly or on call, please get in touch. You can sign up here.

3. Spread the word.

Please spread the word about us. The more of us involved in Oxford Mutual Aid, the stronger and more effective we can be. Let people in your networks know you’re already involved, and ask them to join in this community effort too. There is strength in numbers!

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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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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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Being part of Oxford Mutual Aid

Oxford Mutual Aid is entirely volunteer run. This project is all about helping each other, and we are committed to being grounded in the communities we work in. Many of our volunteers also receive support, and many people we support go on to volunteer.

Cherwell Larder and Kitchen Collective volunteer Mona works hard to help bring good food to her community in Kidlington and Oxford.

Mona began participating in mutual aid after using Cherwell Larder herself. “We’d received some pizza bases in our delivery and there were a lot of fresh tomatoes that needed cooking,” Mona told me. “My youngest child, who is just eight, had lots of fun making a tomato sauce and choosing fresh toppings for his pizza. It was such a delight to watch that I took photos and sent them to Doctor Emily [Emily Connally, who leads the larder] to thank her for the goods.”

“Every delivery (very much anticipated by my children) made us think about the food we eat, from how we cook it to how we avoid wasting it. We started posting creative meal ideas on Facebook in the hope that people would benefit from some new creative cooking meals. Some nutritious and wholesome miracles can be made with a handful of fresh vegetables, spaghetti, and fruit. One of our members posted a fabulous mango salsa which I thought was a brilliant idea. This kind of connection on social media is motivating, educational and a boost for our mental health. I believe that creative cooking and healthy eating are vital to our wellbeing in so many ways.”

“I see the deliveries as care packages, not just the contents but the selflessness and dedication that goes into every single box. People from all over our communities are lending a hand and Covid -19 has brought us back together for all the right reasons.”

Mona’s kitchen, The Climitarian Kitchen, are launching their cafe on 2nd October. They plan to run cooking courses starting in November, with professional chefs teaching classes every week. To learn more about Mona’s work and cooking, visit her blog.

As many people go back to work and university, we are finding it more difficult to recruit volunteers. If you can help, even if it’s just for a couple of hours per week after work, please visit our volunteering page or send an email to volunteering@oxfordmutualaid.org. There are opportunities to get involved with a wide range of activities, from packing food parcels to grant writing. Join in to become part of a network of organisers, learn new skills, and help your community help itself.

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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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We’ve moved!

As of Sunday 6th July, Oxford Mutual Aid have moved into a new hall! Thanks to the generosity of Phil Ritchie and the Cowley St John’s community, we have been operating out of St Alban’s church hall since March. We have now moved our expanding efforts into the Richard Benson Hall at St Mary and St John’s Church on the Cowley Road, near the intersection with Leopold Street. We are so grateful for this support, and the larger, more accessible hall will be invaluable in enabling us to sustain and scale up our deliveries of food and other essential items.

Our inventory at the hall currently includes: fresh fruit and veg, bread, eggs, soup, pasta, cereal, dairy and non-dairy milks, chef-prepared reheatable meals, nappies, tampons, hair products, toothpaste, a pram, a space hopper, and much more! In a larger space with more storage facilities, we can now store many more food items, clothes, baby products, and toiletries. The Oxford Period Drive are also continuing to share the space with us, as a base for their brilliant work supplying hygiene products to people across Oxford.

We were so grateful to have such a wonderful team of volunteers on the day of our big move. They worked hard and cooperatively, packing up, cleaning and clearing St Alban’s hall, and setting up the new hall’s storage before unpacking all our items, clean, tidy and organised. Thanks also go to our regular delivery volunteers, who made sure that we were able to provide food parcels and other support as usual during the move. In fact, we were also helping a member of the Oxford community move into a new home over the weekend!

We are now set up better than ever to help our community help each other. However, we desperately need more volunteer delivery drivers. If you have a car or van and can commit to a couple of hours or more per week on call, please sign up to drive with us through this form. We so appreciate all that our volunteers (many of whom also receive support) do.