Hundreds of tons of surplus food have been delivered to people in desperate need since the coronavirus lockdown began two weeks ago – thanks to volunteers stepping up to make sure a mammoth redistribution drive succeeds.
The Independent’s Help The Hungry campaign supports the work going on across the UK to ensure everyone has enough to eat during the current crisis, backed by figures such as London mayor Sadiq Khan, Labour MP Jess Phillips and TV cook Nigella Lawson.
Many food aid charities have been struggling with a drop in donations and a fall in the number of regular volunteers due to illness or the need to self-isolate. Yet members of the public still able to help are signing up to serve a worthy cause.
Marina Nenadic, 30, is one of a several new recruits at City Harvest in Acton, west London, after the food surplus charity called for more hands to sort through the produce rescued from restaurants, manufacturers and supermarket packing houses.
“I’m working from home four days a week, so I had some extra time, and I really wanted to do something useful with it,” she explained. “It’s within walking distance of where I live, so I’m not taking any extra risks with journeys.”
Ms Nenadic is a marketing executive for Kew Gardens, but she now spends at least one day a week creating crates of food packages for the 300 smaller groups – including food banks, low-income family projects and homeless shelters – served by City Harvest.
“It’s a really positive atmosphere, despite the fact it’s such difficult times. It’s actually quite exciting to see so much food come in, knowing it’s going out to people who need it. It’s been such a rewarding thing to do.”
In the first two weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, City Harvest has rescued and redistributed over 130 tons of surplus food. Responding to the enormous scale of the crisis, the group has joined forces with even larger food surplus charities in the capital – our campaign partner The Felix Project and Fareshare – to create the London Food Alliance.
In a bid to make sure food gets out to those who need it as efficiently as possible, the London Food Alliance is now co-ordinating with all 32 London boroughs to make sure the new, council-run community hubs are well-stocked with supplies.
Liz Taylor, 61, signed up for volunteering work at The Felix Project last week, and is now packing and delivering food at the charity’s main Park Royale warehouse.
“I think they’re doing fantastic work here,” says Ms Taylor. “So many people need help at the moment, so it’s been good to be out doing something useful.”
Ms Taylor thought it was the right time to lend a helping hand to her 64-year-old husband Graham – who has been volunteering as a delivery driver one day a week since retiring as a consultant last year.
“I’ve never liked to see waste, so it made complete sense to me to try and get excess food out to people who need it,” he says. “There’s a great team ethos, maybe because it’s easy to see the benefit of what this project is doing.”
Ben Salama, a 65-year-old retiree, has been making deliveries for The Felix Project for the past three years, but is now doing extra days to help with push to collect and deliver several tonnes of food to the local authority-run community hubs.
“It’s a bit more tiring now, doing deliveries on your own rather than with someone else,” he says. “But I’ve still happy because it feels more important now than ever. It’s actually a bit of relief to get outside and do something. It’s obviously worthwhile, but it’s good for my wellbeing too.”
Mohamed Elmi, 34, volunteering with City Harvest for the past 18 months, says some of the Acton-based charity’s few dozen or so new volunteers have recently lost jobs in the hospitality industry.
“It’s been a difficult time for them but this gives them a sense of purpose,” says Mr Elmi, who also works full-time for a homeless healthcare charity. “It’s really helped us fill in for some of the volunteers who are having to stay at home. Yes, we’re putting ourselves at risk – but this work is really needed right now.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan told The Independent: “The altruism of the British people in recent days has been a beacon of hope amid the darkness of the coronavirus.”
He added: “You can donate spare food at a series of hubs being set up across the city. If you can afford to, you can donate money directly to help keep the food banks open. And if you are fit and healthy, you can volunteer your much-needed time.”
The Independent is asking food aid charities across the UK to contact us at email@example.com to tell us about your project and what problems you are facing right now.
You can help us build a directory of ways that our readers can help the hungry in their area – through money, volunteering and food donations. Find out more about how you can support the Help the Hungry campaign here, or follow this link to donate to our campaign in London in collaboration with the Evening Standard.