FEAST! | Voices of Change

Here at What Can We Do? we strive to promote a better and fairer world through civic engagement, and that is why we launched the Voices of Change guest blog series.

We want to amplify the voices of a variety of different charities, community groups and individuals from home and abroad. While highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted them, how kindness plays a role in what they do, how people can get involved to support them and what the ideal future looks like.

Our special guest today is the FEAST! team, discussing their work during COVID-19 battling food poverty, food waste and supporting the most vulnerable.

FEAST! logo

Tell us about FEAST!'s work?

FEAST! is a charity that collects donated surplus food from distributors, retailers and other organisations and cooks it into healthy and nutritious meals for people suffering food poverty in London. We are led by Hannah Style, a highly experienced dietitian for the NHS along with a brilliant group of trustees and our hard working and extremely passionate Volunteer Coordinator, Partners Coordinator and Fundraising Officer.

We couldn’t do what we do without the tireless work of a network of fantastic volunteers, who come together every week to cook meals to prevent malnutrition, reduce food waste and build stronger communities. We are currently cooking out of four sites in north London several times a week: Kilburn, Angel, West Hampstead and Camden, and have several more locations in the pipeline.

How has COVID-19 affected the work that FEAST! does?

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, FEAST! has been declared an essential service by the Council. This has resulted in a huge increase in the demand for our service due to the number of people isolating, shielding, or simply struggling to feed themselves during this time. As well as adding more cooking sessions to our existing venues, we have also expanded to bring the FEAST! service to South London through a unique partnership with other food redistribution charities and the renowned restaurant at OXO Tower.

Hand-in-hand with this increase in demand, has been the overwhelming response by the community with people volunteering huge amounts of their time to help collect food donations, cook meals and deliver food to our service users.

The main way in which FEAST! has been affected is by the loss of its communal dining aspect and the implementation of a takeaway/delivery service instead. Under normal circumstances, volunteers and service users alike would cook and eat together during a FEAST! session, talking, learning and exchanging experiences in order to break down some of the barriers that divide communities.

What activities have FEAST! been undertaking since the start of COVID-19?

FEAST! has adapted its’ model to be able to keep delivering cooked meals to vulnerable people throughout the outbreak. In order to ensure the safety of our volunteers and service users alike, we reduced the number of volunteers cooking at anyone time so that social distancing could be carried out in the kitchens. We have also changed our operation to a takeaway or delivery service only. Not only have we had to find amazing volunteers who will deliver hot meals for us, but we have also had to source large amounts of food containers to be able to deliver the meals safely.

FEAST! has also been active in talks with other charities, food banks and community groups throughout the crisis to understand how we can better work together as a network in order to help the community at large through turbulent times, such as this.

FEAST!  volunteer showing off a table full of food in takeaway containers

Tell us about the role of kindness in your work.

You don’t have to look far to see that kindness is prevalent in everything that FEAST! does, from the number of people willing to donate their time to help those in vulnerable and difficult situations, to those coming forward with donations of food and containers which are so vital to our operation. We have had the most amazing group of cyclists delivering meals in South London and a group of drivers delivering far and wide in North London.

And it’s not just our volunteers who show kindness in their actions, but our meal recipients who are so grateful to our volunteers for not only sending them hot meals, but meals that are absolutely delicious! We also can’t forget all the venues that we work with and the staff that help us to make sure that FEAST! sessions are fun and successful on-the-ground, and their unflappable nature in the face of constant changes and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

How can people help/get involved with what FEAST! is doing during COVID-19?

FEAST! has a number of ways that people can help and get involved during this time. We still need volunteers who are a dab hand in the kitchen to help prep and cook delicious meals; people with a car or bike and a spare hour or so would be greatly appreciated in helping to collect food donations and to deliver meals to our recipients.

If you know anyone that have a glut of takeaway plastic containers hiding in a cupboard they would be doing us a massive help by donating some to their nearest FEAST! venue. If you are able to you can also donate here, and help keep our services running.

Finally, we have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline and so are on the lookout for some fantastic interns who can give our social media presence a boost, scout out new partnership opportunities and lend a hand learning how to fundraise.

What is the most amazing act of kindness you have seen during the COVID-19 crisis?

It's been extremely difficult to pick just one amazing act of kindness during this time, as there are so many to choose from! The most outstanding commitment and therefore kindness might have to be the amazing volunteers who helped us to get the FEAST! at OXO off the ground.

One incredible lady and her van collected tons and tons of food from FareShare and delivered it to OXO twice a week, while a fearless group of cyclists gave up their lunch-break to cycle 250 meals, five days a week between hubs in Southwark! The scale of this project, our typical British summers of rain and even a handful of punctures and bike malfunctions did nothing to dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of this amazing group who came together to help not only our meal recipients but also each other in times of difficulty.

Rows of meals in food containers

What does the ideal future look like for you? What policies would FEAST! like to see come out of this crisis?

Ideally, the future looks far more connected, educated and outspoken. COVID-19 did so much to highlight the levels of food poverty and vulnerability that were already present across the whole of the UK; we have had volunteers come to us to help who had no idea that such levels of deprivation already existed on their own doorstep. They want to offer their time to help right this wrong, even after they go back to work and life for many returns to some sort of normality. We want to see the community ties that have been made over the last few months become stronger and the voices we have heard crying out about injustices to become louder.

We need food policies that tackle the root of the problems with food poverty and divided communities, and not have to rely on huge numbers of charities and other organisations to ensure that everyone in this country has access to one of their fundamental rights: food. If we all continue to come together and support one another, we can hope for a brighter and fairer future.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

On behalf of the whole team here at FEAST!, we would like to say the biggest thank you to every single person who has come to us to help cook, collect food, deliver meals, source food containers, refer vulnerable people to us for meals, make donations and raise awareness about the work that we do here. Without their help, we could not have fed hundreds of people and saved tons of food from becoming unnecessarily wasted.

However, the crisis does not stop with the easing of regulations and we encourage everyone to use their voice, their time and their actions to work towards a better future for all.

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Have some more time to give? Find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and at our website for more inspiration.

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Do you want to be our next guest blogger for our Voices of Change blog series or want to write for our Spotlight series? Then please get in touch.

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