"It wasn't this bad during the war" - the struggles of increasing numbers of people in Leeds having to choose between food or gas and electricity

Up to a hundred people a day are queuing outside an inner city community cafe because they are facing a choice between paying for gas and electric or food for their families.

Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 6:00 am

The Rainbow Junktion Cafe at All Hallow's Church in Burley has been open for 20 years as a community cafe and more recently as a pay as you feel enterprise to tackle social inequality and inclusion, but, due to lockdown and social distance regulations cannot operate as usual and is now providing food parcels to desperate people in desperate times.

From homeless people to families with full time jobs that still can't make ends meet, three times a week, between 50 and 100 people, now have to stand in all weathers hopeful they can find food to see them through the week.

Rev Heston Groenewald told the Yorkshire Evening Post it was an unimaginable situation that people had to queue for food in 21st century Britain.

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Rev Heston Groenewald at All Hallow's Church and the Rainbow Junktion cafe in Burley.

And he says, after the initial increase in people at the start of lockdown that needed the help of the church and cafe, there was a plateau but the demand is on the increase again.

"Since we started with the Real Junk Food project using waste food, it is about food poverty and reducing the stigma attached to it. We encouraged people, rich and poor, to eat together. Since lockdown it is very much harder, we can't invite anybody in the building and cafe customers have to stand in a queue and wait for food. It is very much harder offering dignity as well as food, it is visible charity now."

The team of volunteers and cafe manager Emily Carrigan are going the extra mile to make people feel at ease by calling them by their first names and even hiring musicians to play in the church yard while they are waiting.

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The cafe also has a 'shop' where people can access other essential items that they need besides food.

Rainbow Junktion has also started to help with gas and electricity vouchers because for some people it is a choice of affording food or light and heating - but not both. One parishioner at the church who is in her 90s said it wasn't even this bad during the war.

Rev Groenewald said: "Yes, it is definitely busier since lockdown. There could be between 50 and 100 people on any given day that we are open and that is three days a week. Initially it was crazy busy, we had a plateau, now it is busy again. One of the things we are noticing a rise in and we are working with the local Co-op to do gas and elecricity vouchers for people that are struggling to pay or heating or light."

While community and grassroots organisations such as Rainbow Junktion and the church, along with many others across the city, are doing what they can to help people especially during half term, he added that it was heart-breaking that it took the intervention of a Premier League footballer to bring the issue to the forefront of national attention.

He has also invited the three Leeds MPs who voted against the extension of school meal vouchers during half term - Stuart Andrews, Andrea Jenkyns and Alec Shelbrooke - to visit the Rainbow Junktion and speak to people about why they are there. So far, they have not taken him up on his offer.

For the last 20 years that the cafe has been open at All Hallow's, its mission has been to welcome and unite the whole community.

Rev Groenewald said: "We are in a football and celebrity obsessed culture and it takes one celebrity to say 'I give this my voice' and other people are happy to get on board. It is heart-breaking and makes your blood boil, but it is lovely that he (Marcus Rashford) has taken this on.

"I would love for those MPs to come and visit and meet people who bear the consequences of policy and decision-making. We have people who have never had to stand in a queue before, people who are in employment, have a job but just can't make ends meet with low wages and tax credit errors - it is not enough to live on.

"For some people it is literally a lifeline for people that are homeless and don't have cooking facilities but it is increasingly for people who have never had to struggle before and are increasingly embarrassed and feel indignity about it."

Can you help?

The Rainbow Junktion, like most foodbanks and similar schemes across Leeds are constantly in need of various items. At the moment they need toothpaste, size 3 and 4 nappies, sensitive babywipes, soap, baby milk, tinned chickpeas, kidney beans, tinned tomatoes, tinned vegetables, UHT milk, coffee, sugar, pot noodles.

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