Surplus food – how it makes a difference to people’s lives

FareShareFareShare volunteer

20 August 2018

Every week a group of people gather at the lorry park at Poole Stadium in Dorset. It’s both a social occasion - time for a chat and a catch-up - and for business, too. And their business is simple. They are collecting food. Lots and lots of food - 4.5 tonnes in June alone.

It isn’t any old food, either. It’s food that has been saved by the redistribution charity FareShare from joining the more than 245,000 other tonnes of good quality, perfectly edible food that is dumped in landfill, burned for fuel, or ground up into animal feed every year, while an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK are still officially classed as being in food poverty.

This food has become surplus because of over-production, packaging malfunctions, labelling errors, over-supply due to favourable growing conditions, unexpected changes in demand or short shelf life.

It comes from growers, manufacturers and retailers and the food being collected by the people in the Poole car park is just a tiny proportion of what has been saved by FareShare, which is now the UK’s largest charity redistributing quality surplus food.

The Poole comestibles come from FareShare’s Hampshire warehouse, one of 21 warehouses around the country, helping to feed over 22,660 vulnerable people a year across Hampshire.

Once the volunteers have picked up the food they deliver it to one of the 13 projects run by Poole Housing Partnership (PHP) and turn it into delicious breakfasts and lunches for older and socially isolated people.

Claire Wade is PHP’s community engagement coordinator and explains how this food is transforming lives in her part of the world.

“It’s mind blowing, actually,” she says, describing how, prior to receiving the FareShare food, the community lunch scheme had to buy its own supplies and; “The cost was much higher.”

Now, by paying a small sum towards FareShare’s redistribution costs, the 13 schemes can obtain all manner of food, which is cooked and served in community spaces.

“PHP pays for a couple of the volunteers to obtain their Food Safety level II certificates from FareShare, and for items such as chopping boards, and then the volunteers collect the food and decide how they’ll cook it and what they’ll serve,” she says.

One scheme does four community lunches and two breakfasts a week, with the Saturday breakfast being free although, for the other meals, a suggested amount of £3 is asked for a two course hot lunch with tea or coffee.

Who is attending these lunches?

In the main, says Claire, it’s socially isolated people – that’s shorthand for people who are generally older, frailer and less able to get about, perhaps because of infirmity or the cutting of bus routes or who have got few friends and family to visit.

For those on a low income the meals can literally change lives, she says.

“We’ve had guests who weren’t able to cook at all, or just living on microwave meals, completely isolated in their flat, who are now coming out to meet and talk to other people and getting a nutritious meal” says Claire.

She has scores of stories of how this amazing service has transformed lives but her favourite is that of the lady who suffered social isolation, had physical and mental health issues and poor social skills, and was persuaded to come to a community lunch.

“Through this she made friends and when she became poorly they visited her in hospital and helped get her flat ready for when she arrived back home,” says Claire. “The changes in her social skills were incredible.”

Other guests include residents who own their properties and who enjoy the social occasion of eating with others. During the school holidays guests sometimes bring their grandchildren.

“One elderly lady was 90 and she told me that the lunches meant she could see her friends,” says Claire. Others have said it’s their only hot meal of the day.

For low income individuals who have to choose whether to ‘heat or eat’, the lunch clubs and community lunches are literally a lifesaver. The food varies from day to day, depending on what FareShare is given that week.

“I did go up one day last week and there was a homemade lasagne on offer, so we had that with garlic bread and salad leaves grown in the communal garden,” says Claire. On other days they’ve had pork chops and on another a mixed grill because of the variety of meat which came in.

“Recently we’ve had a lot of whole chickens and mince - and bacon, which is wonderful because it’s always in demand for breakfasts,” says Claire.

Any food that can’t be used or is surplus even to the lunch and breakfast sessions is put out for people to take home for a small donation. “Often it’s fresh fruit or vegetables, or food which can be very expensive for people to buy. We often get orange juice, butter and cheese and recently had some lovely chocolate puddings,” says Claire. “It means people can supplement what they eat with things they might not normally buy.”

They also deliver to housebound people when the occasion arises.

Given that every meal means someone is less hungry, or eating better quality food, or, as Claire insists, having their life changed for the better, the FareShare food is doing an awful lot of good.

“From December to June, Ralf Jessop Court, one of our sheltered schemes served 1,338 meals,” says Claire. “At another of our projects they served 1,320 in this timeframe.”

Given that FareShare UK redistributed enough food for 36.7 million meals last year, this is an awful lot of goodwill and good food circulating. As Claire explains, none of this would happen without the efforts of FareShare and its 800 national volunteers who make sure all this amazing quality food doesn’t end up in landfill.

“If we had to buy the food it would become prohibitively expensive for the residents, it just couldn’t continue.” she says.

FareShare Southern Central saves over 523 tonnes of good surplus food from right across the food supply chain and redistributes it to 145 charities and community groups throughout the region. These charities provide meals as part of their services to people in need – such as children’s breakfast clubs, day clubs for older people, domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters and drug and alcohol rehab units.

If you’d like to volunteer for FareShare and help ensure no good food goes to waste, sign up here www.fareshare.org.uk/volunteer