A group of selfless cyclists are using pedal power to help others during the coronavirus crisis, delivering free, freshly cooked meals to people struggling to get enough to eat.
Using food from The Felix Project – The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign appeal partner – the bikers, volunteers with the Made in Hackney project, are dropping off hundreds of meals each day to people struggling financially or stuck indoors at all times for health reasons.
One of the 50 cyclists zipping around the quiet streets of London’s east end is Patrick Williams, a 34-year-old musician whose band Chase & Status been forced to stop touring because of the lockdown.
“I decided I had to get involved to help others who are really up against it – I wanted to do my bit,” Mr Williams says of his cycling efforts, which he is doing five days a week.
“It was pretty shocking at first to see how much people are struggling – you see kids waiting at the window or the door for their food. We know in some cases it’s their only main meal for the day and they’re not able to get much else.
“I am seeing some scared elderly people on their own, so if I speak to them from the pavement, I’m just trying to reassure them and keep their spirits up,” he adds.
Briana LeBold, 47, works in fashion production and was furloughed by her company soon after the lockdown began. She has been volunteering as a food delivery cyclist a few days a week.
“I decided worrying about work isn’t going to change anything,” she says. “I thought what Made in Hackney and some of the food charities were doing was wonderful, so I just wanted to get involved to support the work.
“There isn’t a huge amount of interaction with people, obviously, but they do let us know how much they’re enjoying the meals. Even if it’s just a wave and a ‘hi’ – it’s still really nice to see people and feel like you’re helping in some way.”
Tais Lima, a 41-year-old yoga teacher, is volunteering one day a week. “I like getting out on my bike with a sense of purpose,” she says. “There’s a lot of lonely and vulnerable people out there, but it’s rewarding to see they’re getting a meal that changes their day.”
Made in Hackney is one of almost 300 local groups and food banks that food surplus charity The Felix Project is currently supplying with fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce it rescues from restaurants, retailers and wholesalers.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Made in Hackney was a plant-based community kitchen delivering a wide range of cookery classes across the borough.
Co-founder Sarah Bentley explains how they switched gears once the lockdown began. Her staff identified 420 individuals and families in the London borough in dire need of food each day, and asked for volunteers to help drop off the vegan meals between 2pm and 6pm every afternoon.
Kitchen staff at the Angelina restaurant in Dalston have helped with the cooking so they can meet a target of delivering 30,000 meals over the next three months.
“We knew there was going to be this incredible level of need out there, so we ripped up our job descriptions and threw ourselves into this work,” says Ms Bentley. “It’s been pretty emotional at times, pretty intense to see what people are going through. We want to be able to help more people if we possibly can.”
She told The Independent how one family had no food at all in the house for more than two days before they began getting daily meals out to them.
One of those receiving a delivery each afternoon is David Pavlovic, a 63-year-old with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease, who was told not to leave home for a 12-week period.
“I’ve got family outside of London and friends across the city – but they have problems of their own with job losses,” he says.
“I did get worried for a while about having enough food, so it was just a massive relief to get meals delivered. The charities like The Felix Project and Made in Hackney are doing really important work, and it seems like they enjoy doing it too. It’s good to know someone cares.”
The Independent is encouraging readers to help groups that are trying to feed the hungry across the UK during the crisis – find out how you can help by clicking here. Or Follow this link to donate to our campaign in London, in partnership with the Evening Standard.
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