HIV charity Food Chain faces closure unless it can raise cash ‘immediately’

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The Food Chain operates a kitchen in King’s Cross where people can share meals together (Photo: The Food Chain)

A charity in London, UK, faces closure unless it can raise £40,000 in the next few weeks. The Food Chain launched in the late 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis in the UK.

From a string of kitchens across London, its volunteers prepared a nutritious Sunday meal for up to a 1,000 people living with HIV each week. Many had developed AIDS and some were close to death or unable to leave their home.

With developments in treatment, the Food Chain’s services have evolved greatly. Nowadays, with anti-retroviral treatment, many of those living with HIV will live long lives free of illness.

Food Chain supporters and volunteers march at Pride in London last weekend

Food Chain supporters and volunteers march at Pride in London last weekend (Photo: Food Chain)

Who does the Food Chain help today?

Siobhán Lanigan, the charity’s CEO told GSN the charity continues to help around 500 people a year. The majority arrive via referrals from health and social care professionals, but these can also include people who live with the clients, such as a child or carer.

‘Treatment has come a long way and the majority of people are able to live well with HIV, which of course is great news. But the people we support, they’re not in that position. They’re not living well.’

Often the Food Chain will be contacted when someone is discharged from hospital and they have no food at home. Other people living with HIV may face a crisis in their lives. For example, losing their job; their housing; or experiencing poor mental health. This can leave them homeless or in need of additional support and help with groceries.

Some of its clients are refugees or asylum seekers, some of whom do not have the same access to benefits as UK citizens.

‘So there are lots of complicating factors can mean someone gets to an all-time low, crisis point,’ says Lanigan. ‘And at that point they might well get referred to the Food Chain for help with nutrition. Having said that, we’re about more than just the food.

‘There’s the whole aspect of coming for a meal in the kitchen, meeting other people, breaking down that isolation and stigma, and getting emotional support and sign-posting to other services that might be able to help.’

Austerity and drop in funding for Food Chain

Lanigan says more funding today goes towards HIV testing, prevention and PrEP (‘all of which are brilliant things,’). However, as a consequence, the clients helped by Food Chain – the people not living well with HIV – have become, ‘a little bit more invisible … and less supported than they used to be, but they haven’t gone away and there’s no decrease in need.’

She says the situation has been exacerbated by the UK Government imposing austerity measures on public spending.

‘Our crisis has been caused by the absolute pressure on different charitable trusts and other sources of charitable income from years of austerity.

‘It means there’s huge demand on all those trusts. So although we go to them every year, and we get support from them every year, this year it’s slower or it’s reduced.

‘The funding pot for HIV support services like ours has shrunk repeatedly over the last 3-4 years.’

The charity has set up a fundraiser with the aim of raising £40,000 ($50,000/€44,600). After one week, it’s almost hit £9,000 ($11,300/€10,000) in donations. An accompanying video by the food writer Jay Rayner emphasizes that cash is needed ‘immediately.’

In a statement, Rayner said: ‘The Food Chain isn’t merely an important charity.

‘For many people it has literally been a life saver. After 30 years on the frontline of HIV care and support it simply can not be allowed to go under. Too many people depend upon it.’

‘By immediately, we can make it through the financial year if we can raise the £40,000 in the next two months,’ says Lanigan. ‘That takes us out of the woods. It doesn’t sort us out for life, but it means we’re in a position to lever in support from other places.’

See also

AIDS activists from the 1990s remembered in powerful new photo book

Heartbreaking Instagram photo shows people still dying of AIDS in US

The emotional reality of outliving the AIDS epidemic

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