Today in the UK, more than 8 million people struggle to put food on the table. More perplexing still is the fact that around one third of all food produced is wasted, much of still perfectly good to eat. Thankfully, charities are finding simple solutions to address both food poverty and food waste in one nifty redistribution service. One initiative making a real difference is The Felix Project.
Volunteering is the bloodline of any charity and so for an afternoon I join ranks to understand how The Felix Project supports vulnerable people in its community. The project collects nutritious produce from 200 retailers and wholesalers that can’t be sold and redistributes it to approximately 200 charities in London. Think of The Felix Project as as a do-good delivery service.
The shift begins with the allocation of food from its Park Royal warehouse (the other is in Enfield) to each of the vans waiting outside, with produce supplied by Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Paul, Gail’s Bakery, Hello Fresh and Amazon Foods amongst others. There’s a convivial atmosphere inside; many of the volunteers come for one shift and stay for years. Two people are assigned to each van, a driver and co-driver who buddy up to deliver the produce to several charities in the area. Today is the meat run and so we stock our van with chicken, fish and chorizo along with pumpkins and seasonal veg. All the staples for simple, nutritious meals are right here so it feels absurd that this is food that would be otherwise destined for landfill.
Food is a gesture of dignity and inclusion
I’m paired with Colin, a long-time Felix volunteer who generously offers to show me the ropes. He has volunteered twice a week for the past two years so I ask why Felix? “You become friends with the people on your route. On delivery days you’re talking to the charities and people the food is going to, so you see the direct impact Felix makes”.
Once we set off, the afternoon passes quickly as we stop and chat to each of the eight charities on our delivery list. There’s the gregarious priest in Harlesden who greets us in trendy sweatpants and trainers and explains how much the project enables people in need in his parish to stop by for a hot meal. We meet women running a refuge centre and volunteers feeding the homeless, later a home for assisted living sandwiched between Victorian maisonettes. Different outlets united in their ambition to create a safe space with the promise of a hot meal and friendly conversation for whoever needs it. One of our last drops is to a community cafe where locals on low incomes can get a two-course meal for £3. This is an invaluable space where food is a gesture of dignity and inclusion.
Back at the warehouse, development manager Anne Elkins shows me round and explains the charity’s philosophy: “We’re completely non-prescriptive and non-judgemental in who we distribute food to. So long as they are a registered charity with a connection to food.” Almost 2 million tonnes of avoidable food waste is generated by the UK every year. Food poverty is a simultaneously growing problem, with almost 4 million children in homes that struggle to afford to buy fresh produce. This troubling insight prompted The Felix Project to include schools in its efforts. Anne continues: “Our Schools Programme is a free weekly delivery of healthy produce to primary schools, so no sugary snacks or drinks. The objective is for the food to be made available on a weekly market stall so that kids can take food home with them”.
Volunteering is where people can really add value, as Anne emphasises: “We’ve got enough supplies and suppliers to deliver to even more charities but unfortunately we don’t always have enough volunteers to keep everything in balance”. The Felix Project shows how excess can be transformed into opportunity, how unexpected ingredients can prompt creativity and how the simple act of sharing food is the most heartfelt, universally understood gesture of kindness in a community.