Food poverty was on the agenda at a meeting of Council's Health and Community Committee on Thursday evening (12 Nov), where members welcomed additional funding from the Department for Communities to help address the issue locally.
The Committee heard that Council has been allocated £82,944 under the Access to Food Programme, established by the Department as part of the emergency response to Covid-19.
Members were told that the latest funding would go towards enhancing policy development and shaping any future emergency response through more strategic approaches based on learnings to date.
Since the Covid emergency began in March, Council has worked closely with the Department and a wide network of community and voluntary agencies to deliver urgent emergency food aid through the Food Box Scheme to address the immediate impact of the crisis.
Over the months, responses have been refined based on the need for a better collaborative approach to delivering a more effective and efficient and flexible supply of food, and other linked supports, to those in critical need.
Council's Director of Health and Communities, Karen McFarland, explained to Members that the pandemic had highlighted the need for a Co-Design approach to be established in partnership with the Voluntary and Community Sector and other stakeholders to establish a centralised, accessible and more sustainable infrastructure to address the issue.
"Coronavirus has brought the issue of food poverty across Derry and Strabane into sharp focus revealing the vulnerabilities of many households here. Over the past few months we have seen for ourselves the fantastic work being done on the ground by organisations such as APEX Living Centre, the Churches Voluntary Trust and Strabane Community Project to tackle the issue the in both urban and rural areas. They are already involved in the delivery of Food Banks and Social Supermarkets and are well placed to provide interventions in the area of food poverty.
"With the support of an additional wraparound service provided by Local Growth Partnerships to assess and process referrals within their respective neighbourhoods, as well as the support of organisations like Easilink Community Transport to assist with connectivity in more isolated areas, we can ensure a more targeted and efficient approach in each Community area."
The funding will be allocated to each District Electoral Area and will be used to address both short term and long term dependency on emergency food aid, directing resources where most needed. Members were told that all of the stakeholders involved and the Department for Communities are keen to deliver the project on the ground as soon as possible.
Welcoming the allocation of the additional funding, Vice Chair of the Health and Community Committee, Cllr Raymond Barr, said: "I am pleased to see further funding being made available to tackle the issue of food poverty here. It will help to strengthen the network of support on the ground drawing on the expertise and experience of the organisations such as the social supermarkets who already deliver interventions in this area. It will also help us to develop a more cohesive approach to the problem, providing better support mechanisms for those in genuine need.
"I want to thank the Department for their continued support. We are still in the midst of a serious health crisis, and there will sadly be further fall out for local families who will require ongoing aid to sustain them through the months to come."