As the impact of Coronavirus became more widespread, more people needed SOFEA’s service. The people hit hardest are the more vulnerable in our communities, those who are socially isolated, those on zero-hours contracts, not eligible for SSP, unable to access regular food supplies.
As a response, SOFEA expanded their Community Larder provision to 22 locations. They are also providing stock into a number of food banks. They now provide over 3,000 non-perishable food boxes, plus fruit and vegetables, per week across Oxfordshire at no charge. This number is increasing all the time as they encourage people who are not currently members to sign up and access these larders at no charge and work in partnership to open more locations. They are working at four times the speed and pace of just a few weeks ago.
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 then introducing Community Larders. By growing the operation, they reach many more people in need from more locations, with a greater variety of food. By increasing the Community Larder scheme they can further establish a sense of community among its membership in order to offer a support network for those facing one or more challenges brought on by the reality of food poverty.
As a result, they developed from a base in Didcot to an operation running from multiple locations. 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.
Step Change funding allowed them to work with partners to create a strategic plan for the roll out of the Community Larder scheme. This included the implementation of IT solutions to manage the membership scheme and to integrate it with the main food operation. The funding also allowed an upgrade to their premises, purchasing further storage facilities, display and retail type equipment and for a dedicated second-hand chilled van.
Working in partnership with the Fareshare Trust, SOFEA addresses multiple social problems in one go: operating a warehouse that collects excess food from supermarkets, and delivering it to local charities that can distribute it to people in need. Crucially, SOFEA creates jobs and training within the warehouse 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, and has its own employment agency, Futures Placed, to help trainees find gainful employment.
SOFEA’S COVID-19 Response