CNJ Food Aid Van (Covid + Ukraine)


During the Covid pandemic, our newspaper decided it could not stay in our bedrooms and take stories from tweets. We owed it to our readers to do more, so we set up the Camden New Journal's Food Aid Van project. The aim was simple: to use our wealth of community contacts built up over many years to get food and supplies to people who felt forgotten about and most importantly to those who were self-isolating in fear. It was one of the most rewarding pieces of work in our 40 year history as we made daily drops to people in need. People came forward in their droves to donate, and businesses like bakeries and greengrocers provided their surplus. We provided the link between those who wanted to help and those who needed help.

The van went back into the garage as the threat of Covid was reduced and the lockdown lifted, but then came the war in Ukraine. Our readers in Camden watched in horror at the unfolding war and the images of people fleeing Putin's bombs with only the clothes they were wearing. They felt helpless. We all did. But then we remembered our food aid van and decided to make the project international. Dan Carrier, our long-serving, spirited reporter, researched where the refugee camps were forming in neighbouring Poland and the 2,500 mile trip that would need to be undertaken. We ran appeals in print and the donations flowed in, and we will never forget the generosity from people living in north London. There were basic supplies, food and messages of solidarity in our van. It was an unconventional campaign – usually, our coverage is about saving public swimming pools, libraries and hospital accident and emergency departments. But Dan's reporting from the edge of the warzone struck a chord with our readers. They felt that they had helped if even in a small way. Once the van was empty, Dan used cash donations to buy further stock in Poland and went back to the frontline – and he even helped a family escape the terror on the way back. The coverage is detailed in the pdfs provided and won praise from the community, politicians and, perhaps most satisfyingly, fellow journalists. But none of that really mattered: the Ukrainian people, fellow human beings going through something so unthinkable, could provide the only testimonials we needed. And their gratitude was obvious as they collected the donations and the van unloaded. In some ways, just knowing people cared, even though a continent stood between them, clearly meant so much. They had not been forgotten. When it came to this horrific war, we can say – and Camden can say – we did our bit.