JW3: a community centre branches out in times of need

JW3: a community centre branches out in times of need

JW3: a community centre branches out in times of need 1920 1280 WeMakeCamden

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, JW3 (Jewish Community Centre London) started delivering meals to local residents and set up a food bank, joining many organisations helping our communities to access food. JW3, which is in West Hampstead, has been nominated for recognition by residents for this work.

We spoke with food bank co-ordinator Jacob Forman to find out more about how JW3 stepped up to help those in need.

A white man wearing a lanyard stands in front of JW3 building

What has been JW3’s role in the pandemic and what inspired you to get involved?

Before the pandemic, I was working on our volunteering programme, supporting over 150 events a week – we’re a huge cultural space. When the first lockdown came and everything was shut down, our CEO asked me to look at how we could help.

After a couple of false starts, we got in contact with a charity called FEAST With Us who specialise in taking surplus food from places like supermarkets and turning it into meals for people in need. Their usual kitchens were closed due to the pandemic, and we have a large kitchen that we use for cooking demonstrations. This was perfect because it allowed for better social distancing than a commercial kitchen. Working together with Feast With Us, we started cooking and delivering to clinically vulnerable people in the local area in April 2020.

Then in May we received a van load of food, and that’s how we got started as a food bank. It quickly ballooned with us getting donations from the public, and working with the Council to help people referred by them, as well as through mutual aid groups. We’re now delivering meals four times a week to 200 households and providing ingredients to over 100 households across local areas.

“I’d like there to be a change of emphasis as we come out of the pandemic, to build a fairer society as we move forward.”

What challenges has JW3 faced?

It was clear from the beginning that there was so much need from vulnerable people who were really left without a paddle. The consistency of the supply of food at the beginning wasn’t guaranteed. Now we get a regular delivery from the Felix Project. We’ve also had logistical challenges at the start when learning how to do everything from scratch. As a cultural venue that makes its revenue from events, it’s also been a real challenge.

What’s your memorable moment from your activities supporting Camden communities during the pandemic?

Getting in a lorry full of food donated by the Arsenal Foundation, working as a key part of Camden’s COVID-19 community response. Camden Council asked to work with us to set up a north of the borough storage site (the other was at the Crowndale Centre in Mornington Crescent) and we were only too happy to help.

It was also a sobering moment when we reached a year since we started – we never thought this would go on for so long – and when we reached the milestone of 10,000 meals delivered. We’ve now delivered over 150,000 meals.

What is the main thing you have learned since the pandemic began?

Inequality lurks just below the surface here. It’s the 21st century in one of the most affluent countries in the world, but it doesn’t take much to end up in need of help. People think of Hampstead or Frognal as wealthy areas, but many of our neighbours live a precarious existence. Once you know about it, you can’t look away. We’re committed to remaining embedded in our local community to help people in need.

What are your hopes for the future?

I’d like food banks to not be needed anymore. There’s enough food in this country to go round, so no one should be hungry. However, as long as the need does exists, food banks like ours will carry on.

What one change would make the greatest difference for Camden as we come out of the pandemic?

I’d like there to be a change of emphasis as we come out of the pandemic, to build a fairer society as we move forward.

Is there an organisation or group you would like to see recognised for their support for people in Camden during the pandemic?

FEAST With Us, our partner who we work with on cooking meals, have been great. They’ve provided half the volunteers and also liaise with charities to provide homeless people with hot meals. And I want to celebrate all our volunteers at JW3. Everything we do is thanks to the support of volunteers, so a big shout out to them.

How can people get support from JW3 or get involved?

If you or someone you know needs support with food, contact Camden Council on 020 7974 4444 (option 9) to get referred to JW3 or visit findfood.camden.gov.uk.

JW3 is a Jewish organisation but they work with and are here for the whole community in Camden. If you’d like to volunteer to support JW3, they’re looking for delivery drivers, packers and cooks – email volunteering@jw3.org.uk for more information.

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