Week 26 - FareShare
"Food glorious food." (I'm singing that in my head)
I hope you enjoy your lunch whilst reading this blog because there are 5.8million people in the UK that can't afford lunch, or dinner or even breakfast. Not to make you feel bad, but it's the truth.
Scary statistic, huh?
It's those 5.8million people who live in 'deep poverty' in UK. They live in such deep poverty that even something as essential as food is sometimes beyond their reach. (Stats from Joseph Rowntree)
But this weeks charity are doing their very best to fight that, and provide fresh, nutritious meals to as many people across the country as they possibly can.
I first heard about FareShare just over a year ago when they contacted me after I appeared on BBC News. It was at the start of my media exposure back at the start of my blog (The good deed diary) and recognising that I had not yet done any volunteering, they offered me a place to go and help. And help I did. I was so inspired by what they did, they were straight on the list for the Nicest Job.
I must admit I was slightly naïve to how many people in our country actually can't afford food. I was lucky enough to come from a family that was able to provide for me, never worrying about not having a hot meal on the table. It really is frightening how many people can't just pop into their local supermarket and feed themselves and their family.
But second to the epidemic across our country that is food poverty, is food waste. Tonnes and tonnes of food is disposed of on a daily basis that quite frankly is fit for consumption and not just by us; supermarkets and suppliers across the UK over-produce food, too much for even our fast consumer society. A plain example of this is a delivery from a cereal manufacturer on Wednesday that dropped off thousands of cereal products to the charity.
Now, I don't want to get political. That's not my agenda.
But what I do want to do is tell you honestly what I experienced at FareShare this week.
I started my first day in the thick of it, at the FareShare London depot. This is where the 'surplus' food from some of the more 'conscious' suppliers drop off their extras, for the charity to redistribute to other charities in need across London and the rest of the UK.
We spent the morning, from 8am, packing up trays of food and I really won't lie; it was tough work. Going through the order sheets of food that had been allocated from the delivery the day before, hauling it into trays and loading it into one of the many FareShare vans. Hard, grafting manual labour, which is done by a hoard of volunteers. Yes; people give up their time to do this, for free!
And I can already guess what you're thinking. What type of food is it? (I bet you automatically think over-ripe bananas and some almost out of date strawberries?) You're wrong.
Tesco finest steak, full wheels of Stilton cheese, Cornflakes, chocolate éclairs, Pret sandwiches, sausages, parma ham & cured bacon; the list goes on. We're not just talking old food. We're talking the good stuff. Stuff that either the supplier have made too much of, has the wrong packaging or just food that the supermarkets have but can't sell. Not out of date, not gone off; just not wanted. So thank the lord that FareShare take it off their hands and send it out to be used, by people who may have otherwise not eaten that night.
After packing up some of the best food I've seen, I jumped in the van and headed out into London. We were entering some of the most deprived areas in the city and going to places that even I didn't know existed.
Large community centres for young adults tucked away behind urban streets, full of colourful corridors and rows of books to help educate and safe-house kids from the hazardous city. We dropped off the steaks, veg, potatoes and more to be cooked up by the on-site team to provide filling and nutritious meals to the youth members.
I've taken on many jobs on my Nicest Job journey, but this has to be the most instantly satisfying. Knowing that you are dropping off great food, which will feed people that night is nothing short of delightful. Everyone deserves to eat but not everybody gets that privilege, unfortunately.
The rest of the day consisted of different van drops to more community centres, homeless hostels and deprived primary schools. But do you know what I found waiting at the end of every single drop; smiles. Every single person we met and dropped off food to had the biggest smiles on their faces I have ever seen. Beaming from ear to ear with gratitude for the free meals they could provide to people so desperately in need of good hearty grub. That's why FareShare were put on the Nicest Job list, because what they do is provide something so simple, yet vital; food.
Getting off the van at the end of the day, I was exhausted. I had been physically packing and lifting crates of food around London all day long. But every second of it was worth it. Seeing peoples reaction when the van pulled up was priceless and quite frankly an experience you couldn't buy.
It's interesting too, because the work done by the hundreds of volunteers is damn hard work. So one would naturally question why they would for no pay. They all do it for the same reason I did. Those smiles. That look of sheer joy when the food arrives, because that is worth more than money.
Thursday provided an insight into the polar opposite of the world that FareShare work in. We headed over to the banking district of London, Canary Wharf, to put on a marketing event for one of their corporate partners. I've not ever spent too much time in the Wharf, I've never really had any reason to go there. In that small confined place there is more wealth and money than probably anywhere else in the entire country and I went from poverty to privilege in just 12 hours, and man oh man; it put it into perspective.
The charity are very lucky that they have a large corporate backing them as their charity of the year, it can provide a great and incredible influx of cash into any charity, but needs time management. The charity have employed somebody to be an account manager at the company full time (using seed funding provided by them) in their offices to ensure that all events are dealt with properly. It's that type of outlay that some charities can't afford and as such, are unsuccessful in their large charity of the year applications.
It was an eye-opening day. Some of the richest people walking past and trying to entice them to take time out of their busy day to play a game of 'guess how many cans in the van' was not an easy feat. But, playing on their natural competitive nature, we did our best!
What I want you to take from this week's ramblings is this; do you have enough?
We all want more, we all strive for that next thing, but really; how much do we need. When popping to your local supermarket and filling your trolley for everything you want that week, may to you seem normal. Throwing out bread you didn't eat or left over veg that you didn't use because you went out for a meal. Yeah, we all do it. Guilty as charged here too. But think how many people in the country do that. How much food is wasted every year and more importantly how many people that could feed.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is, shop a little smarter. Not only will you save yourself money (win) but you will also help prevent the masses of food waste in this country. And if you want to go a step further donate those extra pennies you saved to charity; a feel good all round.
So without trying to sound like an Asda commercial, think if you really need it. Because I can guarantee somebody out there does.
If you are a charity working with vulnerable people and would like to receive food, please do contact your local FareShare to find out more. FareShare has 20 centres across the UK and you can find their details at www.fareshare.org.uk