Help The Hungry: New kitchen to give out 1.5 million meals a year to the needy

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Today The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign announces the launch of a social kitchen that will cook and distribute 1.5 million meals a year to thousands of hungry schoolchildren and vulnerable families.

The kitchen, which has been nine months in the making and is set to be the largest in central London, will be run by The Felix Project, the biggest distributor of surplus food in the capital. Last year they were backed by our Help The Hungry initiative and the Food For London Now campaign on our sister title, the Evening Standard, which facilitated their expansion to supply 29 million meals to over 900 charities and schools.

The pandemic has led to a rising crisis of food poverty. In London, which has some of the poorest areas of the country, 1 million people were furloughed during 2020 while there was a 128 per cent spike in food parcels given out in the six months to September 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, according to new Trust for London data. Families were especially hard hit: around 100,000 children in London – one in eight – have experienced food insecurity in the past six to nine months, according to the Food Foundation, and the Trussell Trust is predicting that “high demand for food aid is likely to continue with many families’ financial resilience eroded”.

The social kitchen is our response to this escalating need and will be staffed by 12 professional chefs and 50 volunteers. It will be situated in the heart of Tower Hamlets, where 55 per cent of children live in poverty, the highest deprivation rate in Europe – higher even than in Romania which, at 36 per cent, is the country with the most pernicious child poverty rate on the Continent.

It has been made possible thanks to a £1m grant from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, launched in 2010 and managed by the London Community Foundation.

Set over 4,400 sq ft, the kitchen will operate six days a week, 50 weeks a year and will be located on the same industrial estate as The Felix Project’s new purpose-built East London depot in Poplar.

4.7m

adults in the UK suffering food insecurity

The kitchen is scheduled to open in July, in time for the summer holidays so that children left hungry by the government’s failure to extend the free school meal programme to school holidays can be sure of a daily meal. The food will go first to children supported by holiday programme providers and schools and community organisations in Tower Hamlets and the surrounding boroughs of Newham and Hackney, where child poverty rates are 50 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.

The kitchen will begin by producing 1,000 cooked meals a day and then scale up to at least 6,000 meals, at which time its reach will extend to feeding the isolated elderly, the homeless and those left unemployed and food insecure by the pandemic.

Additional benefits of operating at scale include its contribution to reducing food waste by transforming large quantities of very short-dated surplus produce and huge commercial-sized catering packs into nutritious meals at a cost of less than 75 p per meal, making it extremely good value for money. It will also provide employment and volunteering opportunities to local youths, including those not in education, employment or training to address rising youth unemployment in the area.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, has said that “children experiencing food poverty are in desperate need of a long-term solution”. While this kitchen does not address the systemic causes of food poverty and inequality in London – that would be a job for government – Felix has committed to running the kitchen for 10 years, creating a physical legacy that will long outlast the Covid crisis.

2.5m

food parcels given to people in crisis by Trussell Trust during first year of pandemic

The £1m from the Dispossessed Fund will pay for its capital build and refit costs and some first-year running costs, but the kitchen will also need to raise around £1 million a year to fund its ongoing operating costs, including premises rental and staff costs. Felix has already secured more than half the first year’s running costs but will be looking for corporate supporters to partner with them in this endeavour.

Mark Curtin, chief executive of The Felix Project, explained the origin of the kitchen and why it was needed. He said: “Over lockdown, when food poverty rates in London began to soar, we started working with restaurants and caterers to produce cooked meals and discovered there was an urgent need among communities for well-balanced, pre-prepared meals. This kitchen will help us reach many more struggling Londoners and provide working opportunities for local people.“

Doug Wills, the Evening Standard’s lead panel member on the Dispossessed Fund, said: “We are delighted that the fund has been able to step in to enable this social kitchen to become a reality. The project fulfils the founding spirit of the fund which was launched 11 years ago to make a difference to vulnerable and excluded Londoners in need of support.”

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