Red Cross in first Britain food aid since WWII

LONDON (AFP) - The Red Cross said on Friday it will collect and distribute food aid in Britain this winter for the first time since World War II as the financial crisis and austerity hit the poor.

Volunteers from the British Red Cross will launch a campaign in supermarkets asking shoppers to donate dry goods such as pasta and tinned foods, according to plans first reported in the Independent newspaper.

The food will then be distributed by two British charities, FareShare and the Trussell Trust, to hard-up families in Britain, said the British Red Cross, part of the Geneva-based International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Ms Juliet Mountford, head of UK service development, said the Red Cross agreed to help on the basis of "strong evidence of an increased need for support on food poverty issues".

"For British Red Cross it's a toe in the water. It's the first step in considering whether we ought to be doing more on today's food poverty challenge," Ms Mountford added.

The charity said it had provided food to refugees and in flooding in northern England in 2009 but had not taken part in any nationwide food distribution since the war ended in 1945.

A Red Cross spokeswoman told AFP: "I think when most people in Britain think of the Red Cross they think of World War II and the crisis then, and food isn't something that we have worked on since that period."

The charity said five million people live in poverty in Britain.

Red Cross volunteers will go to 2,000 Tesco supermarkets in Britain on the last weekend in November to ask shoppers to donate dry goods and then give them to FareShare, which normally deals with fresh food, for distribution, the Independent reported.

The British Red Cross dates back to the 1870s, forming out of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that began in Switzerland less than a decade earlier.