2 October 2018
THINGS happen when you volunteer.
Josephine found confidence, self-belief and a job after the shock of her parents’ deaths. Rory found his dream gig as a roadie. And Richard switched a life that wasn’t working for him to one that definitely was.
And their efforts are desperately needed because, every year, at least 270,000 tonnes of perfectly edible food is dumped in landfill, converted to fuel, or ground up into animal feed. Yet an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK are estimated as being in food poverty – meaning they struggle to put food on the table every day.
It is mad.
Especially when you realise that this food has simply 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, he says. It could be from a grower, a manufacturer or a retailer.
And that the charities which take it provide meals to people in need – such as children’s breakfast clubs, war veterans’ associations, day clubs for older people, domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters and drug and alcohol rehab units.
They are volunteering directly with FareShare which distributes enough good surplus food to feed 770,000 people every week. That’s 36 million meals a year and a saving of over £28 million to the charity sector. Not to mention the environmental benefit of not chucking away perfectly good food which could include anything from smoked salmon to olive oil, the finest butter and frozen peas.
FareShare has around 800 volunteers, who come from all ages and backgrounds; mums, students, business people, retired and semi-retired people, formerly homeless people. And they are doing a variety of jobs, from helping in FareShare’s 21 Regional Centres; packing, sorting, checking and distributing food, to driving the vans to deliver this great food to great causes.
And, says their chief executive Lindsay Boswell – he’s ex-Army and sees his mission as nothing less than a war on waste – if they had more volunteers they could do so much more.
“Essentially we turn an environmental problem into a social solution,” he explains. “We ask the food industry to give us their surplus of good quality food and with our amazing army of volunteers, we get that food straight back out to incredible frontline charities to help feed thousands and thousands of children and families in need.”
Volunteers are people like Chisom, who fits her work as a warehouse assistant around studying for her MSc in Law and Finance at the University of London.
“Volunteering fits in perfectly with my schedule,” she says. “I have three days of lectures a week, so giving four to six hours of my time doesn’t make much of a difference for me. It will definitely help me with further employment opportunities because it is a great way to learn team work.”
Someone else who knows how volunteering can be a valuable career stepping stone is Rory. He returned to the capital after finishing university and because he’d volunteered before, decided to see who could benefit from his help in south London. FareShare’s name came up.
“I sent in an email to see what they wanted and then came for the induction,” he says. “It was an easy process and now I’m here every Tuesday and really enjoy it. I like being active and it’s a social environment, you are helping to reduce food waste as well as help people who might not be able to afford to eat.”
Initially he was nervous about driving the FareShare distribution vans which, he admits, ‘seemed quite big’. However, after joining some runs as an assistant and realising that the charity always needs good drivers, he decided to tackle the driving job. “Interestingly enough I’m now a roadie for a band but I got the work after I started here,” he says. “Driving the vans here literally got me my job!”
Josephine worked as a driver for FareShare too. After her parents sadly died, she suffered a severe loss of confidence and joined the West Midlands warehouse to try and re-set her life. Over two years she took some of the courses they offered, obtaining her Fork Lift Truck Licence and then one for the reach truck and for counter balancing. “I’m now doing my Level 3 Health and Safety and my diploma in business studies,” she says.
In 2015 Josephine secured a permanent role as a shift co-ordinator.
“FareShare has opened up so many opportunities for me as well as massively increasing my confidence,” she admits. “Volunteering and working at FareShare has had a very big impact on my life, it’s become my family. It’s funny, but I think I’ve found my vocation at last!”
Working at FareShare helped her to realise that despite the sadness of losing her parents there were always people worse off than her.
“That’s made me feel stronger and passionate about what I do at FareShare,” she says. “You think about how much food would be going to waste but instead it’s going to people who need it.”
For Richard, who works in FareShare’s London warehouse, the opportunity to volunteer was also an opportunity to change his life.
“I was working in the art business for 37 years, but I got fed up with the long hours and the long commute,” he says. “I just felt burnt out and needed a change. I’d always done voluntary work and decided to spend a year doing more – so this was my chance.”
He ‘hates seeing food go to waste’, and the physical side of the work appealed and so he signed up.
“I get a lot out of my time volunteering – new skills, meeting people and getting back into team activities – and I’m really happy giving something back,” he says. “We’re so lucky about what we have in life – so much poverty is right on our doorstep, and we should all do our bit to help.”
Ask him about his favourite moment and he has no hesitation.
“Day one, on the van. On my first day at FareShare I witnessed first-hand where food went – breakfast clubs, nurseries, rehab centres and homeless shelters. This is real life, this is where the food goes. A week before, I had been burning out in a workshop doing a job I couldn’t hack anymore.”
FareShare wasn’t devised to bring about these kind of results, of course. But they are deeply welcome all the same because they confirm the charity’s view that when unwanted and surplus food is redistributed, it has the power to change lives.
And frequently in ways no one could have imagined.
All fired up to help FareShare? If you’d like to help feed people first, sign up here www.fareshare.org.uk/volunteer