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#SoupKitchen21: Fans tackling food poverty and where it all began

Sunderland supporters aren’t the only ones doing fantastic things to help feed people in their communities. I spoke to Dave Kelly from Merseyside fans Supporting Foodbank about their work and the #RightToFood campaign.

Roker Report’s fundraising partnership with Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen has been fantastically successful again this year, with over £66,000 raised from well over 1,500 kind people and businesses from across the city and beyond.

We are aware that supporters of other clubs, especially Newcastle United fans, have contributed to our appeal and this demonstrates the power of football in bringing people today. We also know that clubs and fanbases across the football pyramid - from global giants to Sunday league teams - have a proud tradition of linking with charities that support people facing food poverty at this time of year.

As this year’s appeal comes to a close and Andrea’s volunteers deliver Christmas dinners to dozens of families in need today, we’ve talked to one of the inspirational people who started this movement back in 2015, Dave Kelly from the Fans Supporting Footbanks initiative created by Everton and Liverpool FC supporters.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Merseyside, like Wearside, is a coastal urban area that has seen its fair share of industrial decline and poverty since the 1980s. Loyalty to its two famous Premier League teams often cuts across families and friendship groups, a fierce yet reasonably friendly rivalry, and it was this familiarity that brought Liverpool and Everton supporters together to respond to the issue of food poverty as austerity really started to bite in their community in 2015.

Six years ago, Dave was in the Blue Union supporters group and had travelled to London to meet with the Premier League as part of the Football Supporters Association’s 20 is Plenty campaign along with his colleagues from the Spirit of Shankley Trust, the Liverpool supporters trust. There they had been lectured by Richard Scudamore about all the good that the country’s top sides had been doing in their communities, and it was implied that fans needed to do more to help in their own communities too.

On their return to Merseyside, Dave - who works for UNITE the Union - was attending a supporters group meeting at a community centre in the impoverished Liverpool Walton constituency. Outside was a queue of people, but it wasn’t people wanting to get in to listen to them - it was local residents standing in line to collect food from the North Liverpool Foodbank.

When times are tough, Scousers stick together. Liverpool Walton is the only constituency in England to be home to two Premier League clubs, and six of the eight wards in that constituency rank amongst the most deprived in the country. So together with Robbie Daniels and Ian Byrne, now MP for Liverpool West Derby, Dave organised a collection of food outside Goodison Park for the next home against Manchester United.

They had a wheelie bin with them for goods to be deposited in and along with a load of chip papers and empty bottles, they collected eight bags of food.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

That was in October 2015, 233 games later the initiative is still going strong and brings in a ton of food per match, and represents 30% of food North Liverpool Food Bank, which is affiliated to the Trussel Trust. They initiated the movement that is now a feature of football matches up and down the country, including at Sunderland AFC where the Foundation of Light and Sunderland Foodbank have a long-standing relationship.

Having spent over four years collecting food and avoiding raising cash, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the lack of fans in stadiums meant that the matchday donations stopped overnight. The impact on the foodbank was massive. So they started a crowdfunded with a £10,000 target - they achieved that in the first 48 hours. Overall they collected £200,000.

But it didn’t stop there. When the Premier League and broadcasters started charging fans £15 a match to watch behind-closed-doors football during lockdown, the Merseyside fans led a boycott that urged viewers to donate to a foodbank instead of paying for a stream. Supporters groups from every club around the Premier League got involved, raising hundreds of thousands more for food charities across England, and FSF now sits at the centre of the Fans Supporting Foodbanks National Network.

Even though the group was born out of fan activism, Liverpool FC and Everton FC have been extremely generous and extremely supportive of their efforts. They’ve both donated £3,000 food packages to the North Liverpool Food Bank over the last few weeks, and there have been numerous incidents of footballers and managers dipping into their own pockets to support the cause.

The FSF initiative has many arms and funds many different initiatives, including focusing on campaigning for the #righttofood - demanding the government take action to fulfil the UK made in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human rights that the right to adequate food is something every person on earth is entitled to. They have supported the government’s National Food Strategy, which holds the promise of delivering on that 70-year-old commitment.

This Christmas they’ve worked with local farmers to create an illuminated convoy of tractors that went on a 30-mile tour of the city to promote the cause and collect donations at local supermarkets.

They run a mobile membership-based food pantry from a truck, which travels around to “food deserts” in the city that provides its members, local people, with at least £15 of fresh food for a £3.50 fee. They’ve also gone global, donating pesticides to an impoverished farming community in Colombia.

As Dave described to me, “this is solidarity. This is what working-class communities do to support each other. As the old trade-union adage goes: educate, agitate and organise.” This is where we need to take the #SoupKitchen21 campaign next - to address the causes of food poverty to ensure that, while we support what Andrea and the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen does while this issue is with us, we ultimately no longer need to do this work in the years ahead.


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