Help the Hungry: Charities working hard to get ‘tsunami’ of food to people in need, as industry rallies behind campaign

‘We’re scaling up very quickly so we can help as many as we possibly can,’ says CEO of food surplus charity The Felix Project

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 01 April 2020 19:47 BST
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The Independent and Evening Standard launches the Help The Hungry campaign

Several tons of food is flooding into a network of warehouses across London, as volunteers pack up vital supplies for vulnerable people struggling to get enough to eat during the coronavirus outbreak.

A small army of unpaid workers at The Felix Project – one of The Independent’s Help The Hungry campaign’s key partners – have been working extra hours, stacking crate after crate into vans at the charity’s main distribution centre in the west London suburb of Park Royal.

The eager crew – careful to maintain safe distance of two metres from each other – has just delivered one ton of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk and canned goods to a brand new council-run community hub in Enfield.

“We’re trying to scale up very quickly so we can help as many people as we possibly can,” said the charity’s CEO Mark Curtin. “People are working really hard. We’re determined to keep getting food out there.

“The number of people in need is much greater now, but we’re set up to do a lot more than we used to. And the Help The Hungry campaign is certainly helping get us plenty of traction and offers of help.”

Prior to the pandemic, The Felix Project had been picking up surplus food from restaurants, caterers and manufacturers and delivering it to around 600 food banks, care homes, school providers and other charities.

“Some of the charities are either closing or having to reduce what they can do,” said Mr Curtin. “We are still getting food to all those that are still operating, and all those trying to get supplies to people’s homes in different ways.”

Responding to the enormous scale of the current crisis, The Felix Project has joined forces with two other large food surplus charities – City Harvest and FareShare – to create the London Food Alliance.

And to make sure food redistribution is as efficient as possible, the alliance is now co-ordinating with all 32 London boroughs to make sure the new, centralised community hubs are well-stocked with surplus food.

Mark Curtin, CEO of The Felix Project, at the charity's west London distribution centre

The Felix Project’s pool of volunteers has gone up to around 75 people, and Renault have provided the charity with six new vans. Mr Curtin said he would like to get hold of more vehicles with refrigerators inside – and is also looking for more volunteer drivers. “That would make a massive difference,” he said.

The CEO added: “There is actually plenty of food in the supply chain – the industry, the farmers, the producers, the manufacturers, the supermarkets – they are all stepping up.”

Over at the new community hub in Edmonton, in the London Borough of Enfield, council staff and volunteers are gearing up for a huge emergency food operation.

“We’ve made the decision to help everyone who needs help, including people who may be struggling financially,” said the council leader Nesil Caliskan.

Enfield council workers set up new hub for emergency food distribution

On Tuesday, residents who have signed up to help their council dropped off the first 80 food parcels to some of their most vulnerable neighbours, with deliveries set to accelerate in the days ahead.

The council has been provided with around 4,400 names of the most vulnerable people in the area, given age and underlying health conditions, from the NHS list. It is also inviting everyone struggling because of job losses or a sudden drop in income to register with them for help.

“The small, local groups have done brilliant work, but we need to co-ordinate so that we made sure absolutely everyone who is in a vulnerable position is picked up,” said Ms Caliskan. “The Felix Project works right across London, so it’s been a great partner.”

Food parcels being prepared by Haringey council volunteers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was the first of the community hubs to open on Monday, as Haringey council staff and volunteers began getting surplus food out to vulnerable people in the borough.

Rachel Ledwith, FareShare’s development manager in London, said her organisation and the others in the alliance were speaking to each other at a daily 11.30am phone call to co-ordinate deliveries across the capital.

“We’re ready to get a high volume of food into the hubs, and all the boroughs are reacting as fast as they can to get things up and running,” she said.

Ms Ledwith added: “There’s been a tsunami of food coming from the hospitality and catering sector. We’re also seeing the large manufacturers and retailers donate more, as well as providing us with surplus food.

“What’s important next is that we work closely with the food industry to ensure the current volumes of food we’re accessing remain sustainable, as we know demand from our charity network will only continue increasing over the coming weeks.”

The encouraging developments come as the total raised by our Help The Hungry appeal, in conjunction with our sister title the Evening Standard, leapt by £300,000 in 24 hours to £850,000.

We are also asking food aid charities across the UK to contact us using the email helpthehungry@independent.co.uk 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 campaign here.

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