Warmth, community, and full stomachs at Food Cycle
Serving our local communities
Accomplish’s CSR policy encourages us to give time to our local communities. This places us in the society we serve, rather than just keeping us close to it. It also sees us give our most precious commodity – time.
Food Cycle is a special place
As part of this, I work most Saturday afternoons at a ‘Food Cycle’ in south London. Food Cycle is not a normal food bank: yes, every guest receives a bag of essentials that will get them through the next few days, but what makes this initiative special is the two-hour sit-down three-course meal before we hand out the bags.
Achieving this every week is a minor miracle
Early every Saturday morning, our first team gathers food donations from the big supermarkets, local cafes, and allotments. We get what we’re given: some weeks we receive huge amounts of varied ingredients; other weeks, less so.
Achievement 1: over the last 12 months we have saved 5,266 kilos of food from going to waste.
By 10 am, they bring all the donations to a community hall where with 3 hours to go a team of chefs takes over. In a small and basic kitchen, out of the ingredients in front of them, they construct and cook a three-course menu for 60 people (and growing).
That they achieve this every week, without fail, and despite epic shortages some weeks is, to me, a minor miracle. And, when I say ‘chefs’, I mean ordinary people with ordinary day jobs who just like to combine an enjoyment of cooking with giving back.
At 12:30, my team of hosts arrives, and we lay the tables before 1 pm when we open our doors to anyone without question.
Who are our guests?
Some are old and infirm. Some are young and vulnerable in other ways. Some are visually impaired or disabled in different ways. Some are homeless. Some are deeply OCD or introverted to the point that it’s holding them back. Some are ‘one-offs’, and others are regulars. Some are families where Mum and Dad have had to swallow their pride. And some are just down on their luck. Many are lonely.
What happens next is like food for the soul
First things first, we make the strongest teas and coffees you’ve ever imagined. It’s a simple welcome, but it’s an icebreaker for newcomers and a ritual that ends a long week for our regular guests
Remembering a person’s favourite drink isn’t difficult and serving it to them once they’ve taken a seat symbolises that, for the next few hours, they will be our guests and they will receive the respect a human deserves.
After that it becomes a blur: our guests find friends from a previous visit and make new ones, we serve three courses, and wherever we can we give away second, third, and fourth helpings. We keep some back for late arrivals. We box up leftovers as take-aways. And we try to find fair ways of distributing treats, with flowers and chocolates always causing a little jostling.
After our guests say their goodbyes and head out into the world for another week, we clean up and pack everything away – almost always chattering about something unexpected that has happened.
Variously, during my time with Food Cycle, I have danced, sang, laughed at a million jokes, told some pretty rubbish ones, refereed disputes, listened, listened, listened, hugged, cried, and jumped with joy at the smiling return of people we weren’t sure we’d see again.
Achievement 2: over the last 12 months we have served 2,436 guests.
7 things that surprised me
To finish, it is the surprises that will stick in my memory. And, yes, they say as much about my pre-conceptions as they do about my experiences at Food Cycle.
- People with nothing still find ways to give.
- Respect begets respect.
- Sharing a meal breaks down barriers, creates warmth, trust, and an environment in which friendships form.
- It is a community of friendships that keeps many people going.
- Most weeks we put this whole event on for free.
- Privileged people appear to be under-represented among the volunteers.
- I am no longer just a visitor to this community. I am now part of it.