A two-kilometer line of people stretches along Ealing Road in north London. Everyone inside is waiting for a free packet of food.
It is believed to be the longest banking line in the UK. More than 800 people line up every Saturday while volunteers hand out enough food to help over 4,000 people. The line spans more than five blocks and people arrive early in the morning before the grocery bank opens.
It is operated by London Community Kitchen. One of the organizers, Taz Khan, says the Brent Council area has been hit by a growing tide of food insecurity.
While the UK is slowly emerging from its winter crisis, for many people who have lost their jobs, there is no end to the financial burden caused by this pandemic.
Janisha collects food for herself and two daughters. She says there have been no jobs since the pandemic and it has been very difficult to survive. She was recently offered a job in the nursing home and she hopes every week it gets easier to get through, but even with the job she says there isn’t enough money to survive without help from the food bank.
“We saw something that we have never seen here before,” says Taz Khan. “Many of these people would rather suffer and starve than stand in line for food because it undermines their dignity and goes against their cultural beliefs.”
Most food bank beneficiaries are from the Indian community of Gujarat, London, and work in small shops, restaurants and factories or as cleaners. Khan says they are part of the “sneaky or invisible” part of the economy that is being exploited by unscrupulous employers who give them only $ 27 a day.
“These people are being exploited from this very high street where they collect food,” says Khan.
Kajal and Payal are students in London. Both arrived in the UK last year and had to take underpaid jobs to get by while studying from home. Both say they are getting less than $ 40 a day for 12 hours of work.
And every week the number of people in the grocery bank is growing. It started five weeks ago with 200 people; More than 1,000 people are expected to take part this weekend.
Even children line up to eat on behalf of their families. 11-year-old Dharmik hauls a shopping bag on wheels while he collects groceries for his parents and brother.
A recent study found that one in five children between the ages of eight and 17 in the UK is food insecure and 13 percent have either attended a food bank or someone in their family.
“It’s happening across the country,” says Khan. “People don’t talk about it because there is a stigma and people don’t want to accept that the neighborhood they live in is food unsafe.”