Unite’s ‘food warriors’

A Christmas lunch really is just for Christmas. Find out what two of our hundreds of Unite food heroes are doing to make a difference – and support Unite’s campaigns

Reading time: 6 min

It is true to say that this Christmas certainly won’t be like any other – but for all the wrong reasons.

We see the adverts every day. While the shiny families enjoy idealised Christmas Days, and the perfect children open heaps of presents – many of us stare dismayed at the TV –worrying about how they’ll put food on the Christmas table – let alone afford to buy gifts for our young ones.

But outside of the TV-land version of Christmas, there are some truly incredible Unite members among us who are going the whole hog to give families food for their table and gifts for children.

Christmas is a time of magic and Unite has just launched a Christmas appeal to help families finding it tough right now.

Helping families since the pandemic first came to these shores in March, is Northern Ireland’s Unite in the Community Co-ordinator, Albert Hewitt – determined to help bring some seasonal spirit to local families.

Albert told UNITElive, “We’re working in partnership with other organisations and mostly focusing on those who have lost their jobs since the outbreak began. We’ve set up food collection points for members to leave food donations, we’ve been working with food banks, making up and delivering food hampers.”

Hewitt and his relentless team of ‘food warriors’ know no bounds. On the streets of Northern Ireland’s towns and cities, they go wherever they’re needed.

“We’ve given out literally thousands of food hampers – too many to count,” he says.

But it’s not just about food. The team have been keeping in touch with senior citizens and helping families. Manufacturing members have been making PPE and Hewitt and the team have been out to care homes delivering face masks, plastic aprons and other equipment to where it was needed.

“We’ve been consistently working with members that have lost their jobs, senior citizens, the working poor and any members that need help, since March. We’re here to help,” adds Albert.

Meanwhile 450 miles away in Norwich, fellow Unite food hero Brian Green and the local community team at the Phoenix Centre are working flat out to ensure hunger has no place at this festive season’s table.

“Do you know some kind person came into the Phoenix Centre today, bringing whole trays of homemade sandwiches – we’re really very lucky,” Unite Community member and anti-hunger campaigner Brian Green told me.

Working out of the Phoenix Centre, the team have been feeding whoever turns up – first during the school holidays, then over the Christmas season. Unite Community and local community volunteers have pulled together to make the Phoenix the helping and welcoming place for families it has become.

This year with the challenges of the first and now the second Covid lockdown the team and their workload has grown exponentially. “Everyone wants to help,” says Brian, “support for us has ballooned since the pandemic.”

“We’ve been working against holiday hunger for three and a half years now as a trade union with Unite Community and industrial members,” he reports

And the work never stops. “We’ve been supporting people since the beginning of the outbreak. Families, those who have lost their jobs, been made redundant, or who are just finding life tough right now. Demand has gone up five-fold. Everyone is welcome. They can just turn up – we never ask questions.”

With Christmas getting ever closer Brian and the team have everything in hand for the big day. “This year we’ll be taking orders from families for hampers – everything they need for a Christmas Day chicken or turkey lunch. We’re expecting to give out 150 to 200 hampers,” says Brian.

But a Christmas Day hamper is just for, well, Christmas. And unlike most charities the Phoenix team will be serving hot and cold lunch choices throughout the festive period – with the option of a hamper for New Year too.

“I believe it’s vital to continue over the Christmas period,” says Brian. “Hunger doesn’t stop for Christmas and neither do we.”

As we go to press Unite is now running a national Unite Christmas Appeal to help out members and families finding life tough right now.

Unite assistant secretary Steve Turner launched the Unite Christmas Appeal in November. “Unite is determined to do all it can to help,” said Turner. “Solidarity is about looking after one another, which is why as a union we are not prepared to sit back while families struggle to feed their families or buy Christmas toys for their kids.

“Many of our branches already support their local food banks, which is fantastic. But if yours doesn’t, please link up with Unite Community branches and make a real difference.

“Unite knows that food banks and charity are not the solution to the hunger children face. As a union we will continue to put pressure on the government to address the issues that cause poverty. Higher wages and a fairer social security system must be part of the way forward.

“Our union’s branches and amazing members can make a real difference to so many this winter. And you could be a part of that,” he added.

 Unite food solidarity fund

Don’t worry if you’re reading this after Christmas and you and your branch wants to help – you still can.  “One branch told us that £50 pays for one pallet of food,” Steve said. “So let’s keep helping our communities. If the government cuts the £20 increase in April which is what they still plan to do it’s going to be severe hardship for 6m people,” he added.

Find out more

Branches should contact their Community coordinator on [email protected] to find out how to help. Join Unite’s food for all revolution today.

By Amanda Campbell  @amanda_unite

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