34-year-old Uber Eats courier Laurence Smith headed to his local Tesco supermarket in Catford, a district of southeast London. He planned to purchase food on behalf of a paramedic during a special shopping hour prior to opening, which had been set aside for National Health Service staff. But he was shocked to see long lines snaking around aisles. “Everybody in the store except me was a health worker,” he recalls. “It’s likely that many had just come off shifts lasting continuous days and were exhausted. There was little fresh produce available for them. These people are at the front line of this country’s fight against the coronavirus. If we can’t even protect them, what will happen to the rest of us?”
A few hours later, Smith received permission from a church to use its community center as a collection hub for donations of food and other household essentials. After reaching out to his local mutual aid group in the borough of Lewisham, he was flooded with offers to drop off and deliver items to NHS workers as well as the vulnerable, isolated, and elderly. In addition, members of the group contributed over 10,000 pounds (U.S.$12,400) to a fund that Smith established in conjunction with the University Hospital Lewisham and a catering company. This money is being used to provide a free food box delivery service to any NHS worker in the area who is in financial distress. “This has been surreal–just 40 hours ago, we didn’t even have a building,” says Smith. He has also consolidated a network of 45 couriers who assist him in sending necessities to those in need who are currently in self-isolation.