The Food Chain is a London based charity that helps people of all kinds living with HIV. They have recently faced serious funding problems and Dave Cross met up with CEO Siobhán Lanigan to hear more.
Hi Siobhan, in basic terms what does The Food Chain do?
For more than 30 years The Food Chain has helped people living with HIV in London at times of crisis in their lives. Sadly, there are still people who struggle to live long healthy lives with HIV, despite modern medication. They may have been diagnosed late and are already in poor health, or it could be that they have been living with HIV and on medications for many years but are now becoming ill with HIV-related or other conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions. Some will be facing a mental health crisis, often linked to HIV stigma and losses experienced over many years. Others may have a very low income, or no income at all or they may be in insecure housing or homeless. Each person is referred to us by a health or social care professional who knows they are having a really difficult time and need some help with food and nutrition support. Our work makes a life-changing difference to around 600 people every year from all age groups, communities and cultures. People are able to come out of crisis, get back on their feet and get better and stronger.
Can you give us an example of how you help people by going to their homes?
We are able to send immediate help in the form of grocery deliveries to people’s homes. Our HIV-specialist registered dieticians first do a detailed assessment of each person’s medical, social, cultural and dietary needs. They offer suggestions and advice about how to make the most of the ingredients we send and what recipes may work well.
And people come to you as well?
Once we understand each person’s personal circumstances and have made a start on stocking up some food at home, we then invite people to come into our kitchen near Kings Cross to share a freshly prepared nutritious lunch in the company of others, three times a week. All our meals are prepared and hosted by our fantastic team of more than 200 volunteers who support all aspects of our work. Without them we couldn’t do what we do, and we have some people who have been volunteering for The Food Chain for 25 years and more. The kitchen is a warm, friendly and safe place where people who are feeling vulnerable, unwell or isolated meet others who understand and can help.
Do you help all people living with HIV, not just gay men?
Our service users come from all sections of the HIV-positive population. Last year, our youngest person was a 19-year old gay man who was newly diagnosed, and our oldest was 73 years old and had been living with HIV for more than 20 years. We also supported heterosexual women and men from many different African and European countries, trans people, mothers-to-be and families with children.
Our readers may have seen things online about ‘Help the Food Chain’ can you explain what has happened recently regarding your funding?
The Food Chain depends entirely on charitable income, we get no funding from the public sector. This year some of our regular annual funding has not been forthcoming or delayed. That’s why we launched a fundraising campaign to Save The Food Chain this summer. We have an ambitious target of £100,000 to raise by the end of the year, and we have got off to a great start. We hope £40,000 of that may be raised from individual donations, collections and fundraising events, and we are already well on our way to that target, with almost £34,000 being raised in just two months. We collected over £1,200 from five Soho venues in one night over the August bank holiday weekend. An amazing effort!
How can our readers help?
If people want to help they can make a one-off donation to our Go Fund Me page. Share our appeal with family and friends via social media, get in touch with us if you have any ideas for a fundraiser – we have had people shave their heads and swim 26 miles to raise funds for us. Be as creative as you like!