Meet the charity turning tonnes of food waste into hearty meals for the homeless, hungry and in need this Christmas
FareShare reaches nearly 10,000 community groups across the country, intercepting 16,992 tonnes of food waste to make around 36.7 million meals per year
Walking up and down the aisles of the FareShare warehouse, boxes and boxes of temptingly tasty food tower above us, from stacks of chocolates to bulging crates of winter fruit and veg. All this food is perfectly within date and worthy of the finest Christmas party, but everything here has been saved from heading straight to landfill.
This is just one of a network of FareShare warehouses across the country, all equally packed with leftover food that would otherwise be binned. But in the hands of this nationwide charity, thankfully, this food will not go to waste. Instead, it does a great deal of good as a band of happy volunteers in Christmas jumpers scan the shelves packing hampers of goodies for groups who really need this food. They range from women’s refuges to homeless shelters, elderly luncheon groups to school breakfast clubs for children who might otherwise not get a proper meal that day.
FareShare started one Christmas 24 years ago as an initiative between the homeless charity Crisis and the supermarket firm Sainsbury’s. Initially meant to be a one-off, the pilot went so well that FareShare turned into a charity in its own right, dedicated to
fighting food waste and hunger, not just every Christmas but the whole year round.
Today FareShare reaches nearly 10,000 community groups across the country, intercepting 16,992 tonnes of food waste to make around 36.7 million meals per year. And all this comes from food the supermarkets and producers simply don’t want.
“A lot of the food comes to us because the supermarkets have over-ordered, the branding’s not right, or the bottom of the pallet the food comes in might be damaged,” explains Rachel Ledwith, a manager at the London FareShare HQ I visit.
“Nothing’s ever out of date and sometimes we get the most amazing foods, from sirloin steaks to premierrange products.”
Once the food is at the FareShare warehouse, the team will then sort it into sections ready to pack the boxes to be sent out to individual groups who need it. As FareShare never knows what food is going to arrive from one day to the next, the team has to work hard to try to make sure every group has enough and the right food to match their needs.
“One group might be vegan, while another can’t take anything that has nuts in, another might only eat halal meat, so we have to think closely about the profiles of our groups and how we can match what we’ve got to what will work for them,” says Rachel. “We also give the groups recipe suggestions for how they might use the items we give them.
“For example, we just received a big surplus of barbecue sauce and while barbecue season is obviously long gone, we’ll spend time advising groups how they might be able to use it in winter dishes.”
Once the boxes are packed, volunteer drivers then hit the road to deliver these to the local groups who are always so thankful for the food.
“Sometimes feeding people isn’t the main objective of the groups we’re delivering to but food is such a great way of bringing people together, by offering them a meal they might also be able to get other help, such as debt advice if they’re facing homelessness or companionship if they’re elderly
‘Sometimes feeding people isn’t the main objective of the groups we’re delivering to, but food is such a great way of bringing people together’
and lonely. Giving food is so simple, but can have such a knock-on effect,” says Christie Garratt, a member of staff at the London warehouse.
And it’s not just the recipients who benefit. The volunteers here say they get so much from spending their time helping out. “I love putting thought into who I’m creating the box for, what they need and what they’ll like as it makes it feel like more of a gift,“says Jeannine Lehman who’s been a volunteer for six years. “Even if we’re not giving out Christmas food specifically – as it’ll depend what food we get given – we know we’re giving this joy to people at a time when they wouldn’t have otherwise have had that. One of my favourite things to do is deliver the boxes to the school groups as the children all run up to us with smiles, so happy to see us bring the food and that’s really heart-warming.
“Food waste wasn’t something I ever really thought about before I started working here but now I’ve become so aware of it.”
Another volunteer, Viv Lund, adds, “It’s fantastic working with the other volunteers, as you meet so many different people. It’s also like going to the gym as it’s very physical – but lots more fun. And it’s great that we can help tackle the waste of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good food being thrown away.”
In the run-up to Christmas, it’s all hands to the pump to help get enough for daily meals and special festive treats to charities ad groups who may be hosting Christmas parties. ■
Getting their five a day! Volunteers at FareShare sort fresh fruit ready for delivery
Pile it high! Volunteers check the food before it is packed and distributed