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Case study: Local initiative – FoodShare

An interview with the coordinator of a local FoodShare initiative in the UK, Kathryn Deacon.
Tables laden with fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, milk and sandwiches
© EIT Food

In Reading, UK, Co-op Food has partnered with the local community to distribute food that would have gone to waste to families that need it. We talked to the project leader, Kathryn Deacon.

What is your role at FoodShare and what’s the best part about working for the organisation?

I’m the project leader. The project started as a test for the Co-op store situated in Microsoft at our local business park. The contract with Microsoft required zero food waste. I’m a single Mom who finds feeding 2 very hungry teenage boys over the summer holidays quite hard, and I work with families in similar circumstances to me. So I agreed to pilot the scheme in Summer 2017. It fitted well with what I was already doing in the local community and benefited my family and others who attended Coffee and Craft – the community project I oversee. It was also a small but significant way that we as a community could help reduce the amount of food going to landfill. What started with 1 shop and 4 families has grown and is now 9 shops supporting 120 families. It’s exciting that we can make that big a difference so quickly with very little financial outlay and just a couple of hours commitment from each volunteer once a week.
The best part for me has been seeing how something so small could be scaled up very rapidly to meet the demand. I get excited when I think of what we have achieved as a group of volunteers feeding those people we know in our community. I am aware that FoodShare only works with local Co-op stores. Can you imagine what it would look like if every supermarket set up a similar scheme and every community had a food share hub? We could reduce food poverty overnight.
How does FoodShare get the surplus food from the supermarkets to the people who need it?
We work in partnership with our local church and the local Co-op stores. We have agreed a practice that suits both our community and the stores. We have a team of driver volunteers, mainly from the church, who all arrive at their designated store at a designated time, collect the food waste for that day and drive back to the hub (located at the church). There, more volunteers sort it, lay it out on tables and repackage if necessary, then serving it out to households who have turned up to collect. During the 12 week Covid lockdown we had a delivery system in place for those in isolation or on the shielding register, also carried out by volunteers.
What is the impact of getting this food redistributed?
In 2019 we redistributed 73,926 individual food items (such as a sandwich, a ready meal, a pasty) with a value to the stores of £84,512. From March 2020 to end of July 2020 we have exceeded these figures significantly and do not foresee any reduction in the need for the forthcoming year. This food would all have been disposed of as food waste into landfill sites.
What kind of surplus food does FoodShare redistribute and which unsold food do you see more frequently?
We redistribute fresh food that would otherwise be disposed of at midnight the day we hand out. This is predominantly fruit, vegetables, ready meals and in store bakery items. During the pandemic we have also reached out to wholesalers in the area and received pasta, rice, baked beans and crisps – all with a week to go before their ‘best before’ date is exceeded.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about food waste since starting FoodShare?
How each of us can make a significant difference by doing a small thing. Every driver volunteers 1 hour per week and contributes towards feeding 144+ individuals. Each server volunteers 1.5 hours a week and not only are they feeding people but they are caring for them, checking if they need any other help, like counselling, financial advice, etc. It takes 10 minutes on average to serve each person and we can direct them to other areas of help if needed and see real life-changing steps being taken. All the volunteers have said they have learned not to judge others as we have no idea what their life journey has been like. You become far more accepting of people’s differences and more challenging of their life choices. As the Project Lead, I have seen the young people who volunteer grow and flourish. It has given them a real sense of pride and achievement, a connection to their community and a better understanding of food waste.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about food waste?
People think that everyone who uses redistributed food waste is homeless or has a dependency on something. We feed families who find things tough – 90% of those collecting food work, but the wages are not sufficient to put fresh fruit and vegetables on the table.
Another misconception is that there isn’t very much food wasted by shops. We need to work with stores to show them how much they are throwing away and how they can change. Each store sees only their own contribution to the amount wasted. We need to make them aware of the collective amount.
Do you have a message for our Learners on how they can help to reduce food waste?
To reduce food waste as a consumer is simple: Plan a weekly menu – this does not need to be set in stone but used as an indicator. Make shopping lists using the menu to be aware of what you’re buying. Eat the fresh food first. If you want to be more spontaneous, then shop after 8pm for that night or the next day as all the fruit and vegetables will be reduced and you can save it from going to landfill. We only need to buy what we can eat, there’s no need to stock pile fresh produce as most people live within a mile of a shop.

Do you know of any similar initiatives in your area? Please share your experiences if you are involved. Would you be willing to get involved if you could find a local opportunity?

© EIT Food
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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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