Dedicated volunteers who are trying to stop any child in London going to bed hungry told today what motivates them to fight against food poverty.
More than 250 volunteers work for food surplus charity The Felix Project, which The Independent’s Help A Hungry Child appeal is raising money for. The diverse group have many reasons for dedicating their free time to the charity, but they all urged other Londoners to consider volunteering.
For Marcus Roberts, volunteering for The Felix Project was a very personal decision. He grew up in a house without enough food and knows about food poverty from first-hand experience.
He said: “I remember getting excited as a child when my mum received her weekly money and took us to the supermarket to get the shopping.
“Just the thought of having enough food in the fridge to eat for the next few days put me in a good mood and actually made it easier at school for those days as I could focus more. Food was always like a symbol of things going well and life being good. It was the days when there wasn’t much to eat and the cupboards were bare that never seemed to go well.”
When Mr Roberts was a teenager his mother developed a drug addiction and money was even more scarce. It was not until he went into foster care that he started eating regularly. He said: “I thought it was a real luxury to be having breakfast, lunch and dinner with a pudding nearly everyday. Life got better and better from there on in, where I managed to get my first job at 15 and never looked back.
“But one thing that always stayed with me was the sense of safeness, of happiness and contentment just having a decent meal can provide.”
Mr Roberts is now the Sustainability and Recycling Manager of London Daylesford Stores, and was instrumental in getting the store to sign up to give surplus stock to The Felix Project.
He is also involved in a personal capacity and volunteers at the charity’s Park Royal depot, as well as collecting food and distributing it to charities every Sunday. He also did the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve food collections this year and helped to answer phones during the Evening Standard’s fundraising telethon last month.
On top of this, he organised a special promotion at Daylesford, which gave £1 to The Felix Project every time a pack of mince pies was sold. He will also run the London Half Marathon to raise money for the charity.
He said: “I come from a very humble background where there was never enough to eat and I can really relate to this. I was that hungry child going to school not being able to focus properly because of lack of food. If I can be a tiny part of ensuring that another child doesn’t go to bed hungry and go without, I feel I’ve done my small bit to make a positive difference in society.”
Maria Vihljajeva: ‘I’m called the Food Police’
Maria Vihljajeva volunteers as a driver for The Felix Project. She saw a flyer for the charity and was immediately intrigued.
She said: “I am a big advocate for food waste reduction and recycling and I am known as the ‘food police’ among my friends. I am famous for trying to come up with ways to save food items that sometimes look beyond resuscitation.
“The ability to combine food waste reduction with channelling the surplus towards those that need it most sounded like a great idea to me.”
John Coffey: ‘It’s the first time I’ve volunteered’
Evening Standard vendor John Coffey became a volunteer after reading about The Felix Project in the paper he was handing out.
The 59-year-old, who distributes the Standard at Holland Park Tube station, said the team he volunteers with has become like a second family.
Mr Coffey, pictured, spends three mornings a week loading vans with food and dropping it off to charities around London, before heading back to Holland Park to hand out the Standard. He said: “It is the first time I have volunteered, and it is a really nice team to work for. I wanted to do it because I understand there are problems for people on low incomes and with food poverty and people going hungry.
“I like giving something to the community and helping people less fortunate than myself. I would highly recommend it. I look forward to going in and find it very rewarding.”
Chef Katie Reid volunteers because food waste has always been her “bugbear”. After hearing about the charity from a friend, the 25-year-old signed up for evening shifts in the role of helper, working with a driver to collect and distribute food around the city.
Describing her first shift, she said: “Everyone was extremely warm and grateful to us. By the time I arrived home I felt a strange mixture of emotions, thoughts and feelings.
“That evening I could have been sitting in a pub, lying on the sofa watching TV or having a nice dinner. What real impact would that have had on my life? And upon others? It was a question of how to use my time.
“Food poverty shouldn’t be a problem here in London. It may sound cheesy but participating actively in social change really does make you feel lighter and inspired, more self-assured and generally happier. The journey so far has been an incredible one. All I can say is give it a try.”
Allan Fitzgerald: ‘Food waste in London is shameful’
Allan Fitzgerald, 60, from Harrow, is a driver for the charity and helps in the warehouse. He read about The Felix Project in the Evening Standard.
He said: “I was really touched by the story of Felix Byam Shaw and his father’s campaign to leave a lasting legacy for his son on the issues he cared so much about.
“As a born-and-bred Londoner, I am ashamed that the city I live in and love has so much food waste and increasing levels of food poverty. I am proud to add my name to the list of volunteers at The Felix Project.
“A volunteering role [here] is totally fulfilling. Supported by a team of dedicated and fun staff we volunteers enjoy every minute of our day, whether out delivering food and meeting the fantastic charities we support or in the warehouse unloading the vans, packing the food and organising the storage. The people are great, we smile and laugh a lot. I love it!”
Jules Morgan: ‘The team is like a family’
Jules Morgan, 44, from Holloway, read about The Felix Project in the Evening Standard and decided to volunteer. He had previously worked at homelessness charity Crisis and helped set up its Christmas shelters. He first raised money for The Project by completing the Tough Mudder obstacle race and then became a volunteer.
He said: “I have always had an issue with excessive food waste, particularly working in cafes when I was a student.
“Throwing away good food while hearing about and seeing extreme poverty and hunger in the world and also in the UK — living on the breadline was not a euphemism.”
Describing the charity, he said: “I love it and really believe in [its] whole ethos and what it achieves.”
Here are the ways you can donate to our appeal:
Call – 08000 639281 (freephone)
Text – FELIX £5 TO 70700
Click – independent.co.uk/helpahungrychild
Post – Freepost HELP A HUNGRY CHILD
Want to help a hungry child? Join our Facebook group now https://www.facebook.com/groups/2016636181953774/
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies