The Norfolk farmers feeding the homeless and hungry

PUBLISHED: 11:54 21 October 2020

Mike Buckingham with pasta destined for charities over Christmas 2001  Picture: Sam Robbins

Mike Buckingham with pasta destined for charities over Christmas 2001 Picture: Sam Robbins

One man’s impulse to help the homeless means more than 20,000 people will enjoy a free festive lunch this Christmas

Food ready to be distributed by the Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal  Picture: BEFAFood ready to be distributed by the Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal Picture: BEFA

When Norfolk fruit farmer Michael Buckingham saw homeless people sleeping on the streets he wanted to do something to make a difference.

Thirty five years later the charity that Mike and his family launched will help feed 20,000 people across Britain this Christmas.

He began by collecting food for a Crisis at Christmas lunch for homeless people and went on to set up the Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal (BEFA), persuading farmers and food producers to donate the ingredients for many thousands of Christmas dinners.

Ever since, every Christmas, around tonnes of food is donated and distributed by BEFA, mainly fresh produce given by farmers, some of whom have now been helping for decades. Several give tonnes of potatoes, carrots and onions every autumn and BEFA also raises money to buy whatever else is needed so that the 220 charities they support, mainly in the east of England, can provide complete meals for homeless and vulnerable people.

The many thousands they feed include homeless people and those living in hostels, women’s refuges and supported housing, plus families in need who turn to charities such as the Benjamin Foundation, the Purfleet Trust, young carers groups, the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

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Mike, of Swafield, near North Walsham, died in 2010 but his widow is a patron of BEFA and his daughter and son are trustees. Almost everything is done by volunteers; North Walsham farmer Bob Clabon co-ordinates the donations of potatoes, the Jolly family of East Harling provides storage, and haulage companies including Starlings of North Walsham, 3-Distribution from Kings Lynn and MDF in Great Yarmouth transport the food for free.

This year Ken Smith of BEFA said there is even greater need than usual: “Normally we operate from August to January. However, we felt we had to respond to the Covid crisis and we have been working since March to support some of our charities. I foresee that we will have to continue to do this and we are urgently considering ways of funding our work throughout 2021.”

An annual appeal for schoolchildren to give a bag of sugar (with British Sugar matching kilo by kilo the first two tonnes of Silver Spoon donated) brought in six tonnes of sugar to sweeten festive treats, puddings and hot drinks for homeless and vulnerable people last year.

The 35th annual emergency food appeal will help people across East Anglia, including more than 70 Norfolk charities providing food to those most in need this Christmas. Ken said:

“Obviously, we particularly need help from farmers, growers and importers. However, we are always grateful for any donations.”

For full details of how to help, or to donate to the 35th emergency food appeal visit befafoodappeal.co.uk

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