SOFEA’s first strategic objective is the relief of poverty and need in particular by the provision of food. Their intentions are to ensure greater numbers of individuals and families receive appropriate quantities of nutritious food, emotional support and additional wrap-around services, helping them to maintain their physical health and mental wellbeing.
As the impact of Coronavirus hit, more people needed SOFEA’s service, particularly the more vulnerable in our communities through their Community Larders. SOFEA also saw an increase in food provision to charity partners and food banks – their community food members.
Over the peak of the pandemic, SOFEA worked with local charity partners, children’s and family centres, community groups, sheltered communities, town councils, housing associations and residents’ associations in order to established 23 Community Larders and 26 closed distribution hubs across Oxfordshire. Through this network, they distributed a total of 41,225 food boxes, free of charge (equivalent to: 290 tonnes of ambient food, fresh fruit and vegetables; 725,000 meals) to individuals and families living in areas of multiple deprivation, with high rates of child poverty and children on free school meals, those who are socially isolated, in financial crisis, ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay or unable to access regular food supplies.
SOFEA’s partnership with FareShare UK, as well as their own local relationships, brings the assurance of food supplies through Asda, Morrison, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose. SOFEA is the only organisation in Oxfordshire with such connections across the retail and wholesale supply chains ensuring hundreds of tonnes of ambient, chilled and frozen food can be redistributed every month directly to, and through, statutory and charity partners.
An emergency grant from OCF’s Community Resilience Fund covered their immediate lost income and allowed them to continue their vital and unique role.
OCF originally awarded £25,000 towards cash-flow funding to SOFEA in 2016 to help them develop their social enterprise and become self-sustaining. As a community foundation we remain keen to work more closely with charities in social impact investing, where funders act as investors rather than donors.
SOFEA further increased the scope and impact of their work by introducing Community Larders. These were relaunched in August 2020, following the initial emergency support. Even during the lockdown, the Community Larders provided a valuable social lifeline for many people living alone.
SOFEA have established a plan for the growth of the Larder network funded, in part, by OCF’s Community Resilience Fund Recover Stronger grant. This plan includes building a collective understanding of the county’s ongoing food needs and identifying food poverty hotspots. If a Community Larder is not present, SOFEA will seek local community organisations to help establish a Larder in these areas. Whilst the food will be provided by SOFEA, the venue and volunteers will be provided by VCS partners. This is a vital part of communities owning their own Larder and their ability to respond to local needs. They are expected to have at least 5,000 members across the county.
By providing nutritious food and support, through their Community Food Members and Community Larders, SOFEA helps beneficiaries to avoid diet-related illnesses and conditions, whilst alleviating anxiety and depression, especially for those with diagnosed mental health issues or living in socially complex situations. This will form part of a new county food strategy based on a public health approach of feeding communities in need, reducing the downstream costs to health and social care.
Having distributed 715 tonnes during the 12 months to March 2020, SOFEA anticipate this increasing to 1,840 tonnes (equivalent to 4.6m meals) in the 12 months to March 2021!
As membership grows the scheme becomes financially self-sustaining, through its fees, and members can access services beyond food, including SOFEA’s training and community offers.
Alongside its Community Larders, SOFEA creates jobs and training within its warehouse operation for young people who have dropped out of the education system or never had employment. They receive vital experience of the workplace, as well as Maths and English tuition, helping them build a better future for themselves. The team at SOFEA is skilled in working with people who have not seen themselves as successful in traditional learning environments. Alongside practical and academic training, there is a strong focus on developing the attitudes and mindsets of trainees to facilitate fundamental behaviour changes. SOFEA also works with local businesses to create employment opportunities for trainees.
Their warehouse operation and the recent necessary scaling up of food box production has been managed by their young team of staff and trainees, most of whom have progressed through SOFEA’s education and training programme.