How to help a food charity this winter

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With the cost of living crisis making people insecure about basic needs such as nourishment, now is an important time to lend a hand. We talk to Mary McGrath, CEO of FoodCycle, about how we can all help out.

According to the Food Foundation, 18% of UK households (or 9.7 million adults) experienced food insecurity in September 2022. With bills and commodity prices constantly rising, this number is set to increase even more this winter.

Charities such as FoodCycle, based in Nine Elms, London, are doing their best to provide adequate food to those in need — the organisation uses surplus food to create meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation — yet always welcome an extra pair of hands. Mary explains what FoodCycle does and how you can help over the festive season.

What is FoodCycle?

E­ffectively, we rescue surplus food, and bring it back to community kitchen spaces. That’s where the magic happens. Volunteers will see what’s there to cook and turn that into a fantastic three-course meal. Our guests are people who may be hungry or lonely; they could be families on a lower income, older people living on their own, sofa surfers, homeless or refugees.

We don’t ask any questions — we think maintaining your dignity is really important. Our volunteers give a hearty welcome to people who come through the door, and have a great time themselves, meeting people in their community, sharing recipes and conversations.

Read more: Five charities to donate Christmas presents to this year
A group of volunteers serving donated food, lading food onto plates to disadvantaged people, wearing protective face masks, aprons and protective gloves
Photo by Getty Images
Are the centres busy?

We’ve seen numbers double since last January. The current crisis means there’s a broader range of people coming to us. Many of our guests can’t afford to buy the food they’d like to buy, and around 75% of them are now skipping meals. So, it’s brilliant that once a week, for two hours, they can relax and get looked after in a nice, warm space, with as many cups of tea and as much food as they like.

We hold our meals at the same time every week, in the same venue — that repetitiveness, that sense of knowing what will happen is important for them. It means you’ve got a really nice, warm space in which to sit. And if everyone’s congregating in one room, you’re generating human heat as well as using the heat of the venue.

What we find is that people come for different reasons. Older people won’t necessarily want to eat. For those that are hungry, the food we offer is easy to eat and digest and is served with care and warmth. Loneliness and poverty go hand in hand. As for young families, they love coming because this way, they avoid spending a lot of money on food that their children might end up not eating.

What are your next steps?

My biggest worry is being at capacity. Right now, we can be serving 60 people in one sitting, and it’s difficult to go beyond that. So, we’re always thinking of ways to alleviate the stress for people. We’re investing in takeaways for people who can’t sit down. We’re born out of surplus, and, in London, we’re well blessed — we work with the City Harvest, which donates quite a lot of food to us.

Read more: Charitable bequests: how to leave money to charities in your Will
Volunteers serve food for charity
Photo by Getty Images
How can people help out?

I would highly recommend getting involved in volunteering. Sign up for the local centre nearest to you — you don’t have to commit your life to this, just turn up once and, if you like it, come back again and again. If you can’t commit to volunteering, you can make a donation instead.

And if Food Cycle isn’t the right organisation for you, there are so many other food charities in the city that you could get involved with, which do brilliant things. We all have a common purpose here, of looking after our fellow human beings and, at the same time, we end up looking after ourselves.

Words by Tamsin Wressell

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