Last December FareShare gathered enough food to provide 2.1m meals, while beating food waste.
FareShare estimates that the amount of food wasted each year is equivalent to four million Christmas dinners, while waste charity Wrap estimates that enough potatoes are thrown away in UK homes each year to make roast potatoes on Christmas Day for the whole country for 48 years and the amount of poultry thrown away annually is enough to make 800 million Boxing Day curries.
The waste doesn’t just happen at home – more than two million tonnes of “good to eat” surplus food go to waste within the supply chains each year. Last year in December FareShare gathered enough food to provide 2.1 million meals for people in need.
The idea is simple. Food is donated to FareShare by producers, supermarket chains, suppliers and more. The donations – from fresh fruit and vegetables to chilled goods, meat and tinned goods – are sorted, checked to make sure they meet quality standards and then distributed to FareShare’s members.
Those 11,000 charity and community groups across the UK pay a fee that covers some of the costs of running the warehouse and deliveries but is much less than they would pay to buy the food conventionally.
Simone Connolly, director of FareShare Midlands, says there’s more to it than people realise. “Doing it to the right standards is incredibly important,” she says. She explains that while some people think the food is somehow sub-standard produce that has been sent from supermarkets, most has never made it that far, coming from bigger distribution centres, producers and suppliers themselves.
The reasons can range from over-deliveries to the fact that some perfectly edible foods don’t meet retailers’ criteria. A walk round the warehouse reveals onions that have been donated because they’re too small, some products that haven’t been labelled correctly and inside the chiller are packs of meats which need to be used in the next few days.
For warehouse and logistics manager Ruth Newbold, FareShare has taken over her life. “A few years ago I found myself single and working full-time so I wasn’t entitled to benefits, but I couldn’t always afford to eat. I know what it’s like to be hungry.”
Once the food is checked, it is delivered to groups that include food banks and women’s refuges to community cafes, before- and after-school clubs and other voluntary groups where getting quality food for a minimal charge makes a huge difference for many.
“We surveyed our local groups in the Midlands and one in five said they would have to close without FareShare,” says Simone. “They’re getting food for 10 to 25 per cent of what they would have to spend to buy it.”
Weekly deliveries to the Leicester South Salvation Army have allowed the chef to revamp the menu at the community café yet still save money. On the day I visit, specials include chicken katsu curry with rice, naan and salad. Food that isn’t used at the café then goes into the branch’s food bank, as well as its community market.
Feeding people good food that they could not usually afford is close to the hearts of all involved and it becomes particularly poignant at Christmas. “So many people think it’s a load of tins in a garage but it’s much more than that,” says Ruth.
“Basically, it means some people are sitting down to have a hot Christmas dinner that they may not otherwise have had, and that means so much.”