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Paper Talk

14 May 2013

No one likes us, we do care

Today's issue of Time Out features Millwall FC and our work with the Peckham Foodbank.

Although there's only half an hour to go before a vital home fixture with Nottingham Forest, Millwall's captain Paul Robinson isn't in the changing room. He's outside in the car park of The Den, the club's South Bermondsey home, cradling a packet of cornflakes. Around him fans stream into the ground, dropping packages into the giant plastic boxes at his side, which rapidly fill with pasta and tins of soup.
They are destined for Peckham Foodbank, a vital community resource for those literally too poor to eat, and Millwall is the first football club in the country to take part in such a project.
'I bring something to every home game' says Linda Abbott, 55, adding a box of Weetabix to the pile. 'It's putting something back into the community.'
The club could do with some good publicity. Their chant is 'No one likes us, we don't care' and the violence that erupted at Wembley in April obliged their long time manager Kenny Jackett to publicly apologise, then go on to resign at the end of the season.
'We've got such a bad reputation,' admits another supporter, Dave Hart, 64. 'But you won't read about the foodbank in the press.'
But ,any people in the capital do not need to read about foodbanks. They're already using them.
In 2009 there were just six foodbanks in the capital, feeding 400 people. Today there are more than 40, feeding 34,000. A London Assembly report 'A Zero Hunger City', published in March, predicts that thousands more Londoners will soon be relying on them.
Londoners like Oliver Chika. I meet him at the Peckham offices of Pecan, the charity that operates the foodbank.
'I often don't eat all day,' he says. 'My priority is my boys.' His two sons are in a buggy. Together they are picking up bags of food. Chika, 34, arrived here from Nigeria eight years ago, and worked on a temporary visa for six years.
Since his application for a permanent visa was turned down, he has been disqualified from claiming benefits and barred from working. On top of that, his oldest child has been diagnosed as autistic.
'Some days I might have two slices of bread,' he shrugs. 'You get used to it.' Chika puts on a brave face, but the strain is clear. 'Thank God this organisation is here.'
Downstairs a volunteer is organising donated food; cans of beans, tinned tomatoes, tinned tuna. Apart from the Den's donation, supplies arrive from drop-offs at churches and supermarkets. One handout has to last its recipient three days.
'The number of people coming through the doors has doubled over the last six months,' says Chris Price, Pecan's executive director. The bank sees 20 to 35 families on the two half-days it is open a week. 'We see people at rock bottom,' he says. 'We see them in reception tearing open packets of biscuits. It's their first food for days. That's why it's brilliant having Millwall involved. It's local families helped by their local team.'
'I've come here hungry,' says Anita Soutter, 52. A query has stalled here disability payments, leaving her and her 13-year-old son with nothing to live on. When did she last eat? 'Yesterday. I had a sandwich. My stomach is going mad. I passed Manze's pie and mash shop today and I was drooling.'
The London Assembly has called on the Mayor to coordinate a response to the problem. 'The London Food Board is taking steps to address the issue,' said a statement from Rosie Boycott, chair of the LFB and the Mayor's food advisor.
In the meantime, Millwall, it turns out, do care very much. At The Den, Robinson adds his cornflakes to the plastic container. 'I've got three girls,' he says. 'Thinking about kids who don't get enough to eat...that feels personal.'

* During the summer break if you are visiting The Den and have a spare tin or two then please bring to main reception and we will, as ever, make sure non-perishable food items and toiletries are passed on to the Peckham Foodbank.

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