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Satisfying a need

Food banks are in the news, but their rise to prominence has drawn attention away from another important initiative to tackle hunger, according to John Hinton, director of Glasgow's Move On project.

DRIVING FORCE: FareShare Glasgow project manager Yvonne Strike at work in the organisation's Possil depot. Picture: Colin Templeton
DRIVING FORCE: FareShare Glasgow project manager Yvonne Strike at work in the organisation's Possil depot. Picture: Colin Templeton

"In a month, FareShare feeds more people nationally than the biggest food bank in Britain does in a year," he says.

Mr Hinton is explaining why Move On, a charity working to support people affected by homelessness, has forged a partnership with FareShare – another charity which distributes unwanted food products.

"Move on has always focused on long-term change, providing a range of services and opportunities for people who are roofless or on the streets," he explains.

"We are constantly developing our services in order to address that need. Cutting down on food waste makes a lot of sense. It also provides really good volunteering opportunities."

Food banks have been criticised as a sticking-plaster solution to poverty in the UK. They are also hard to monitor, Mr Hinton adds. "You don't always know how the food is being used, or if it is used at all."

FareShare is a scheme which operates on a franchise basis across the UK, with major food retailers, including M&S, Sainsbury's and Tesco, among the chains which have donated sometimes large quantities of unwanted food to be redistributed to those in need.

Delivered to a central depot, the food can then be diverted out to a range of local networks, including one in Edinburgh, and now in Glasgow after Move On helped establish a warehouse in Possil.

Local franchises can also have agreements with nearby retailers – the Glasgow scheme already has agreements in place to take surplus from Glasgow businesses Green City Wholefoods and the city's Giffnock branch of the international Wholefoods chain.

The quantities involved can be staggering. Pallets sent in by food businesses can contain up to a tonne of food each.

A new deal currently under negotiation with a supermarket chain, could see four lorry-loads a day delivered to the national Fareshare centres. This constitutes just a quarter of the food that the chain discards daily.

None of the food is out of date, indeed some of it will not expire for years. Labelling, dents, or over-ordering are among the reasons for waste.

FareShare Glasgow project manager Yvonne Strike has only recently had to find homes for some of the 131 Christmas turkeys – worth £60 each – which were provided to the 18 UK franchises.

The model involves persuading local Community Food Members (CFMs) to pay a joining fee of £20 a week to receive deliveries of food. For that, they will receive at least one delivery, usually four bread- crates full, and worth upwards of £100.

The emphasis is on avoiding further waste, so deliveries will be tailored to their needs where possible, and there may be extra deliveries. The recent arrival of four pallets of cereal bars prompted phone calls to CFMs to find takers.

The members themselves are those working with people in food poverty, as Mr Hinton explains. "They include organisations working with homeless people, community cafes, pensioners clubs – basically any organisation involved in feeding disadvantaged people."

Food retailers donate their surplus, and deliver it to central depots gratis, partly out of a sense of community responsibility but also, one suspects, because it saves them considerable landfill taxes.

The Glasgow warehouse is already a spectacular Aladdin's cave of understandable – and less explicable – reject goods.

A case of large bottles of DemiGlace – a sauce for red meat – is sitting waiting for a home. So are tins of a popular brand of tomato soup – nothing wrong with them, but the labels are all in Turkish.

Tins of biscuits, well within date but with a redundant Christmas theme, tower in stacks over a famous brand of coffee which is within a month of its use-by date.

There is rice and pasta galore, partly due to campaigns run by Sainsbury's and Tesco asking customers to buy staples and long-life goods specifically to help vulnerable groups.

The value of much of this to scheme members is obvious, but the value to volunteers is also significant.

Move On works with upwards of 150 volunteers at any one time. People who are vulnerably housed take part in a range of schemes including helping to provide mentoring and housing support projects and visiting schools. Each year these schemes help 50-70 young people into employment or training, but they are not for everyone.

"I heard about FareShare and thought 'wow, that's right up my street'," explains Charlene McKellar. "Some of the volunteering is not hands-on enough for me. But it's crazy the amount of food that's going to waste. I want to be part of something that's for a good cause."

Volunteers help out in the warehouse and sort and deliver crates of food to members. It is expected that some will be able to achieve certificates in skills such as food handling and safety, and forklift licences.

This is one of the aspects that appealed to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess, who visited the Glasgow depot recently, and gave the initiative the stamp of approval. "I like the innovative way it is supporting other projects," she said. "You can read about the waste in supermarkets, but seeing it in this volume very much opens your mind – all this food that is perfectly usable. It is ridiculous that it was just thrown away in the past."

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