Rasta lockdown aid – a lot more than food alone

    volunteers with food supplies
    Sister Stella Headley, project manager, Sister Sheeba Levi-Stewart, coordinator, and volunteer Ras Gaddy collecting food from Mala Naicker – consultant and surplus food lead for Lambeth

    Fabian, a 35-year-old Rasta man who has lived in Brixton all his life, survived what looked like being the hardest time of his life thanks to fellow Rastafarians.

    A Lambeth council worker for 15 years, he was seriously injured when knocked off his motorcycle on Brixton Hill in 2017.

    “The coronavirus outbreak was my lowest time in my life, as all my medical appointments had been cancelled,” he says.

    “This had made me very depressed and lonely, not being able to go out or see anyone. I was in a very bad state of mind.”

    But he was contacted by Marcia, a fellow Rasta, who he had met at hospital hydrotherapy session.

    She told him about the Brixton-based Rastafari Movement UK and he contacted them.

    “A day later I received a text from RMUK saying a member was getting ready to deliver a wellbeing package.

    “I now have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to my house every week. I have a telephone call twice a week from a member of the RMUK, making sure I am keeping well.

    “I cannot stress the depth of my gratitude.”

    volunteers with food
    Mala Naicker, Sister Marcia Cunningham – logistics manager, and Ras Gad Brown – volunteer for Rastafari Movement UK, on their weekly collection of fresh fruits and vegetables

    RMUK is based at Impact Hub on Electric Lane in Brixton. Volunteers run its Food and Well Being First project from the Bell Gardens Community Centre in Peckham – supplying vulnerable members of the BAME community in both Lambeth and Southwark.

    They care for many people who have “slipped through the net” or who would rather just engage with grassroots people.

    Early in the Covid-19 Crisis, RMUK lost a number of close community members who were then unknowingly at a greater risk of catching and dying from virus. 

    As lockdown began, many community centres and food hubs were shut because of government regulations, supermarkets were stripped bare, and people were afraid to go out, making food difficult to obtain.

    RMUK project manager Sister Stella Headley says: “We urgently contacted Mala Naicker, consultant and surplus food lead for Lambeth at the Healthy Living Platform in partnership with Lambeth council.

    “We raised the urgent need for food for our members. With immediate effect Mala arranged for us to receive the foods we required,” says Stella.

    “Our volunteers understand the ethos of Rastafari faith which should be free from ego and full of love for humanity, without judgement,” says coordinator Sister Sheeba.

    “Most places we could access in Lambeth were lockdown, so we created a small but powerful space in Peckham in the interim.

    “We assemble care packages for clients. We share ideas, healthy recipes and offer support, signposting, guidance and a little conversation to clients when we deliver their package.”

    These include:

    • People aged 65 and over
    • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
    • Children under five
    • People who are not exposed to much sunlight, putting them at a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, for example, those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound or who must stay indoors for long periods.
    people in room with food supplies

    Logistics manager Sister Marcia Cunningham explains: “We carefully select our food based on our clients’ spiritual, cultural and wellbeing needs and aim to offer fresh and organic produce, along with a big spoonful of love and kindness.

    “Our clients gain a real sense of engagement from the befriending, pastoral and care support is offered by trained volunteers”.

    “To date, and as a result of our initiative, there have been more than 400 deliveries. 

    “Each contains ingredients for approximately five meals – multiple breakfasts, lunch and dinner. 

    “This amounts to almost 2,000 meals to date. On average, recipients receive about 10 kilos of food in a delivery – meaning 4,000 kilos of good food distributed to vulnerable individuals and families in the BAME community.”

    Sister Marcia thanked Grove Lane Baptist Church, Dulwich, for assisting with deliveries and donations. 

    “But we are asking Southwark and Lambeth to continue to fully engage, support us and include us in any narrative, network and conversations concerning the distribution of food during the crisis.”

    She said RMUK’s links with inter-faith networks in Southwark and Lambeth had made a magnificent difference.

    Now RMUK is seeking to establish the first BAME and culturally specific community store “run by grassroots for grassroots and the wider communities”.

    Its online fundraising appeal is to enable RMUK to provide even more services and a wider range of healthy nutritious food for longer. 

    Food Donations can be dropped off at Bell Gardens Community Centre, SE15 6UJ on Tuesday afternoons between 2 and 5pm.