Solidarity in action: UNISON heroes help feed the hungry

We talk to UNISON Environment Agency East Anglia chair Charan Sekhon about his work with SEVA Trust

Lockdown and the shutting down of large parts of the economy has been particularly challenging for low-income families, migrant workers and international students.

Many of them have had no recourse to public funds after losing part-time or cash-in-hand jobs.

UNISON activist Charan Sekhon says this has led to some international students “actually starving” in Britain and unable to leave because of travel restrictions.

As well as being chair of UNISON’s Environment Agency East Anglia branch, he’s chairman of Social Education Voluntary Association (SEVA) Trust UK, a Bedford-based Anglo-Indian charity focusing on educational projects.

The charity decided to switch its attention to stopping people going hungry and has now handed out more than 500 food parcels and 200 hot meals around Bedford, Luton, Cranfield and Milton Keynes.

It’s also donated thousands of pounds worth of food to other charities helping communities in need and international students.

As soon as the lockdown started, the Trust began providing food to elderly and vulnerable people in Bedford and overseas students, mainly from local universities.

“Black communities are the hardest hit by Covid-19, as the high death rates show,” he said. “Many are in isolation looking for support and help.

“We’re also aware that a number of elderly migrants struggle to communicate in English, making it harder for them to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing.

“We decided to help these hard-to-reach communities and international students who are often not able to get access to needed help.

“Many of these students have been doing cash-in-hand or hourly-paid jobs, which they have lost. They can’t get home to their families, and they feel alone and don’t know how to access help like food banks. As the demand grew bigger, we opened two new free food hubs in Luton and Milton Keynes,”

As the lockdown continued, SEVA decided to open the service up to UNISON members as well.

“The UNISON Environment Agency East Anglia branch supported SEVA Trust UK International projects to help education for low-income students,” says Charan.

“Our committee decided to extend our Covid-19 free food service to all UNISON members and their families who are key workers and helping to keep our services going.

“We feel this a small way of thanking them to their service to local communities and our great nation.”

“We are a small charity run by all unpaid volunteers but we are overwhelmed by the community support helping us to keep our Covid-19 project going.

“Recently we’ve supported 15 UNISON key-worker families and 55 low-income families identified with the help of a local school. We are determined to keep our free services open until things return to normality.”

Anyone wishing to support SEVA Trust projects can donate on the charity’s website. You can find SEVA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Main picture shows Charan Sekhon and SEVA Trust’s Bedford food hub co-ordinator Jatinder Singh. Other pictures show UNISON volunteers helping deliver food.