Pembroke College is collaborating with Oxford City Council to bring meals to over 120 homeless people who are being housed in student accommodation and hotels during the lockdown. The initiative, which has been running since the 4th April, has provided over 15,000 meals to date and supplies two hot meals a day plus breakfast to those in need.

The task of delivering the food, whose recipients are spread over five different locations, falls to a team of eight council and ODS staff, who collect the meals from Pembroke twice a day, with cold breakfast packages being included in the second delivery. ODS, Oxford Direct Services, is an enterprise who act on behalf of the council in helping serve the needs of the community. In April, Oxford City Council managed to secure 121 rooms in hotels and student accommodation to house those living on the street and in shared hostel rooms, to help them self-isolate effectively during the coronavirus pandemic, following a government directive on 26th March. 

Pembroke head chef Chris Allnutt commented that he and his colleagues’ job had become “almost unrecognisable to the one we were all doing just a few short weeks”, but that the challenge of providing food on this scale every day has been “one of the most difficult I have tackled but certainly by far the most rewarding”. He estimates that every week, the kitchen churns out the equivalent of 1,750 packs of cereal, 840 one-pint UHT cartons, 120 kilograms of mashed potatoes, and 2,000 disposable pieces of cutlery. Staff have had to accommodate for a variety of dietary requirements, and during the period of Ramadan, extra deliveries were factored in for the approximately 10 people involved who were observing the fast. 

Under the restrictions of social distancing, only four staff members are able to work in Pembroke’s kitchen at a time, but the team has risen to the challenge. Dame Lynne Brindley, master of Pembroke, commented that “everyone in college is immensely proud of our catering team who are once again putting in extra effort to show the meaning of being a caring community”.  Allnutt noted that “we have had feedback from some of the homeless people that have received our meals and some have said that this has been the highlight of their day and they look forward to the meals arriving”.

When asked for comment, a university spokesperson said that helping the community respond to the coronavirus outbreak is “a priority for the University and colleges”, and that they have “responded wherever possible to requests for assistance the council has called upon us to provide”. They additionally noted that the university had been helping to contribute by housing a doctor who works at a medical clinic dedicated to the homeless, donating to the Oxford Homeless Movement, and the contribution of food and cleaning materials to Oxford Mutual Aid. 

Oxford City Councillor Mike Rowley, who is the cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless, said in a statement that “it takes more than a roof to end homelessness and I’m very grateful for the hard work done by Pembroke College […]. Everyone involved in this initiative has risen to [the challenge] admirably”.