The London shop where you only pay for what you can afford

A London charity has been doing business in hospitals throughout the pandemic where visitors can pay for what they can afford for groceries and other household items.

The Nations Africa Center (NAC), which has been in operation for over a decade, is at the center of donating food to key NHS workers on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals such as Northwick Park and St. Mary’s, where infections have been high.

Their donation grocery stores, which began with the initial lockdown by the Imperial NHS Trust, were visited by over 180,000 people during the pandemic, most of whom were NHS staff.

As of March 2020, the charity has also distributed 146,400 tons of food, acted as a food hub for 23 London charities and even donated over 1,000 face shields to the NHS during the lockdown.

NAC chairwoman Linda Benkerrache said she wanted to create a food service where people would not feel stigma when they received support.

Ms. Benkerrache said, “During the initial lockdown, we were inundated with requests for food parcels, so we thought, how do we know what people like or dislike. What’s the point of giving people things they don’t like?”

The NHS staff were avid users of the donation business system

“We thought about creating a model that is similar to a food bank but allows people to keep their dignity and come and give what they want.

She added, “The healing starts in the store. People don’t feel the pressure of not being able to afford anything. People donate what they want.

“We got people to donate up to £ 20 for a bottle of water.”

NAC uses the donations to support communities across London, particularly Brent, with projects that improve health, wellbeing and education.

NAC also opened its fundraiser on the Middlesex University campus in April 2020, where they saw desperate NHS staff and students availing themselves of their services.

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Ms. Benkerrache said, “The effects have been terrible. We have had people we could never imagine, especially on campus and in the hospital. We have spoken to people who have said they have to help their daughters with their mortgage, they work 12-hour shifts without daylight.

“We don’t ask people questions, but we had people tell us their stories.”

NAC is no longer offering its businesses through the Imperial NHS Trust due to the termination of the contract, but the donation businesses are still in the trust’s hospitals.

The Nations Africa Center offered its service like a normal shop

Ms Benkerrache said arrangements had been made to leave her equipment (refrigerators, grocery pallets) in her Middlesex University donation shop so that it could be carried on through the university’s student union. However, Ms. Benkerrache said the eleventh hour plans were canceled and she was forced to keep food pallets in her Wembley driveway while a mosque in west London could store some of her equipment.

However, NAC continues to operate as a grocery delivery service, but via the Ms. Benkerrache Wembley driveway, where she receives pallets of groceries from supermarkets and charities and distributes them to thousands of people in need through her volunteer team.

Ms. Benkerrache said NAC is currently looking for a space to continue its fundraising work and develop a system that can support people in need without feeling like they are using a grocery bank.

Click here to learn more about the work of NAC and how you can support them.

Middlesex University has been contacted for comment.

London Herald