IT was a project which started out life as a way to help feed people who were vulnerable or struggling through lockdown but now as we ease out of restrictions, its need is greater than ever.

Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts doesn’t turn people away nor do they means test or judge.

So when a nurse turned up at their site because she needed help to feed her family, no questions were asked. Families, people living on their own, those in employed or furloughed have all come through the doors of the volunteer group.

However, instead of starting to wind down, they are seeing demand increase and are also trying to find new volunteers as people begin to return to work.

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Started by trained chef Lewis MacLachlan the idea was to cook up meals from empty premises while there was a need. Now more than 120,000 meals later and with 200 volunteers cooking, packing and distributing food, it has become a lifeline for many in need.

The project is now delivering all around Edinburgh and have two daily hot meal services from their home at Leith Theatre.

More than 28 tonnes of food has been saved from landfill and turned into healthy meals.

Mr MacLachlan was in the middle of a masters degree in gastronomy at Queen Margaret University when lockdown struck and has put now put his degree on hold to continue running Empty Kitchen, Full Hearts. Little did he know the idea of sourcing surplus food in March would have such an impact and demand.

“The paradox of food insecurity and food waste in Scotland, the UK and worldwide is a shame on ourselves as a society but also our governments,” said Mr MacLachlan. “We are all guilty of ignoring the bag of carrots that has one that looks a bit ‘past it’.

"It’s understandable, but by all doing that, we’ve condemned that kilo of carrots to landfill, undermined the value of the farmer and land that produced them, reduced the worth of the shop staff and, quite often, with household food waste, will not use the full bag before they spoil at home.

“At Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, we’ve created a system that takes the literal tonnes of food going to waste, gives it to chefs who need to keep busy and connected with friends and their passion, and deliver to and feed 600 people three meals a day seven days a week for free.

"We’ve done this from nothing and so when politicians ask how they can help us all I can really ask is ‘make the need for Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts a thing of the past. Make services like ours redundant.”

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The project saw rapid growth during lockdown and as we ease out of lockdown some other similar projects are winding down. However, in the last month alone Empty Kitchen Full Hearts has taken on more than 300 new clients who had been helped by other services.

Volunteer Hatty Webster found out about the project through social media and offered her services after being furloughed.

“It was the middle of May when I was furloughed and I knew I couldn’t just sit about and that I would need something to do,” said Ms Webster. “I found the group online and signed up and was happy to get involved. However, it is sad that in Edinburgh in 2020 there is a need for this at all. We don’t means test and feel there is a matter of dignity for anyone facing food insecurity. Anyone of us could find ourselves in this situation given what has happened to people and their livelihoods in lockdown.

“We have delivered to people who are vulnerable or shielding and the response and feedback from people has been great.

“We have food packs with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and ones for kids as well. People have also enjoyed coming to our base for the daily meals as it has given them a chance to speak to people as well.

“There is very much a need for what we are doing and I hope we can be around for as long as there is a need. The volunteers have all got stuck in from helping in the kitchen, packing, serving and delivering. Although we would love to hear from any volunteer drivers as we are in need of help there.”

And while other lockdown services are closing or reducing their operations, Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts has launched its second fundraiser since it opened.

Just yesterday they delivered 480 food day packs, which contain healthy meals from what volunteer chefs have been able to create with donations they have received, across Edinburgh.

Ms Webster added: "The need for our services continues to expand which is why we have had to start a second Crowdfunder. £2 will feed a family of four for a day. £30 will feed a family of four for two weeks and one day. We are absorbing clients from other organisations who are referring people to us now and our client list has grown to 500."

"We run two shifts a day so if there are any chefs out there who can help, we would love to hear from them as sadly there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for us yet."

Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance said even before Covid-19 hit, one in five people in Scotland were living in poverty, but the crisis has pulled increasing numbers of people into destitution.

Mr Kelly said: “The latest figures show there was a 37 per cent increase in the number of people applying for Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grants in May compared to the same period last year. Local authorities and the Scottish Government must make sure the Scottish Welfare Fund is accessible and well promoted so that people aren’t forced to rely on emergency food supplies.

“In a decent society, everyone’s income should provide them with enough to live on. Our social security system needs to provide adequate incomes and employers should pay the real Living Wage.”

If you can help Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts email or telephone 07895 347157. To donate go to