HUNDREDS of families in Oxford devastated by the coronavirus crisis are still struggling to put food on the table, community groups have warned.

Since the first lockdown in March, a wave of restrictions, furloughs and job losses has swept through the city, leaving many on reduced or no income.

An army of volunteers stepped forward to help deliver food parcels and collect prescriptions, in what was thought to be a short-term emergency.

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But nine months on, the picture remains bleak for those reeling from job losses and unable to afford food, fuel and other basic essentials.

Nabila Qureshi, director of Oxford Mutual Aid which delivers weekly food parcels to 200 homes, said: “Covid has cost hundreds of thousands of people their jobs and they still have families to feed.”

She warned: “This crisis is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Food parcel packing in Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

Even before Covid, one in four children in Oxford was living in poverty but the problem has been aggravated by the fall-out from the virus.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits shot up by more than 80 per cent between March and April, and latest figures show it is now even higher.

With more redundancies predicted, community groups on the frontline say their work is just as crucial now, as when the pandemic first hit.

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The families delivered to by Oxford Mutual Aid include 187 children and 30 babies.

Another 50 homes are on the waiting list for the food parcels, which also include toiletries, cleaning products, nappies and formula milk – items which Ms Qureshi says many simply cannot afford.

The team, which tries to respond to urgent cases within hours, has also sent out more than 200 emergency food packages since October.

During the lockdown in November, it reported a sharp rise in requests from residents and referrals via GPs, social workers and other support workers.

Volunteers for Oxford Mutual Aid.

It also supplies more than 400 reheatable meals every week, working with other local organisations such as Lady Margaret Hall college and The Kings Centre under the Kitchen Collective scheme.

Another group on the frontline is Oxford Community Action, run by volunteers from Oxford’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

It has gone from delivering food parcels to about 40 families a week in April, to packing and sending out 400 of the packages from a hall in Cowley.

According to co-founder Mujahid Hamidi, some families are reluctant to ask for help.

He said: “There’s a lot of pride in communities and among people who are struggling.

Mujahid Hamidi, left, and Hassan Sabrie of Oxford Community Action. Picture: Ed Nix

“We overcome that, by making sure the food would be delivered by people from their own communities, so, it looks like their friend just came round and dropped some food off.”

One mum-of-three in Oxford said that she was left penniless after her husband walked out during lockdown after emptying their joint bank account.

But after applying for universal credit, she was told it would take five weeks before any money came through.

“Social services asked us if there was anything we could do to help,” recalls Sue Holden, who heads Barton Community Association (BCA).

Sue Holden. Picture: Ed Nix

“We were on her doorstep within an hour, with food, teddy bears, activity packs and reading books and we made sure she was looked after, every single week.”

This is just one of many cases where the group has stepped in to help, since Covid-19 struck.

At the height of the first lockdown, it supplied almost 300 food parcels a week to families across the city.

Eighty people have signed up for the scheme since it launched in September.