Set up last year by a group of community organisers and council residents in London, Cooperation Town’s mission is to “organise around food poverty outside, against and beyond the mainstream charity model, where do-gooder philanthropists provide for the deserving poor for as long as they feel like it,” says its co-founder Shiri Shalmy.
But the network’s mission became even more pressing in the face of the current pandemic. Harnessing the power of mutual aid groups, which also reject the top-down approach to food security and have flourished during the pandemic, Cooperation Town was able to adapt its model.
With many households on low or no income experiencing food poverty, Cooperation Town groups in London, Bristol and Hull turned their efforts to supporting mass food distribution. In London alone, with the support of local mutual aid groups, Cooperation Kentish Town distributed 30,000 free meals to households with no or low income.
“We were able to rely on the new mutual aid groups for distribution,” says Shalmy. “Their distinct demographics meant that lots of people, who were able to survive comfortably on furlough, had time on their hands and suddenly realised the extent of poverty in their own communities, which was somehow entirely invisible to them until that point.”