Gary Nash at Eat or Heat

The Fight for Food Banks

Gary set up Eat or Heat food bank nine years ago, now he’s gearing up for the busiest time of the year…

“Little did I know back then that we would end up with three food banks open six times a week,” Gary Nash, chair of one the largest independent food banks, tells Quids in!. He set up Eat or Heat nine years ago and is gearing up for the busiest time of the year. 

He came up with the name after realising that this is a choice many of us have to make – do we eat or heat our homes? We can’t afford to do both. Eat or Heat has now grown into a network across London’s Waltham Forest, with food banks in Walthamstow, Chingford and Leyton. 

The food banks are not funded by the council. They rely solely on the community to raise money or donate food. Run by volunteers, Eat or Heat operates on a referral-only basis. People are referred by over 400 organisations including the NHS, Citizens Advice and the council. The food bank gives people three days worth of food per week, for a limited amount of time. 

Why do we need food banks?  

Food banks are often criticised but if run properly they can be a lifeline for many of us. “We don’t want to create a problem around dependency,” says Gary. “That’s why food banks need to run on a referral basis.” Eat or Heat can refer people back to a professional who can help find a longer term solution.

The start of lockdown wasn’t easy as Gary explains: “It was frustrating. We had money in the bank but because food was being rationed we couldn’t access large amounts. We didn’t know where our next can of food was going to come from.” 

The three food banks became distribution centres. Gary put out appeals to the community. The response was staggering. Shops, bars and restaurants gave away hot meals and gourmet lunches. “The local community kept us going. I never realised how strong it was.” 

Eat or Heat handed out 84,000 meals between the end of March and August. The charity has seen a 104% increase in referrals in 2020 compared to last year. Even without a pandemic, 2019 saw a 94% increase from the previous year.

“Food banks are here to stay,” Gary says. “There’s no easy solution. No government is willing to take it on.” He adds: “If they didn’t exist we would be back in the Victorian times with children begging on streets.”

The summer holidays and run up to Christmas are the busiest periods for Eat or Heat. The food bank gets three times as many referrals a week than it normally would. 

We can help ourselves by building our own food bank to help when times are tough (see our piece on creating a Doomsday Cupboard).

To get a referral to Eat or Heat, visit this page on their website.

Where to find a food bank

We can find our nearest food bank via the Independent Food Aid Network or The Trussell Trust

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