IT has attracted the support of celebrities including Nigella Lawson and comedian Kathy Burke who said the level of public support it attracted within weeks showed that "kindness always shines through.'

The premise of Free my Meal is simple: to connect people who are happy to share an extra plate of hot, home-cooked food with a neighbour or local family who needs it.

While many of us may have less disposable income to give to charity, as a result of the pandemic, they might be able to cook an extra portion of spaghetti bolognaise or stick leftovers in the freezer, says Hayley Steere who launched the scheme in August.

The not-for-profit project now has more than 70 groups world-wide and 20,000 members in the UK, although mostly south of the border. It doesn't yet have the same profile in Scotland but those behind it are hoping that changes.

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A Scottish Facebook group has around 400 members and numbers are steadily growing. Cooks and recipients connect through a central portal linked by postcodes and can remain anonymous, while meals can also be left in a safe place and there is no requirement to give out addresses.

Laura Russell, 35, from Comrie in Fife, who is married with a daughter, signed up and has helped one family so far. She said the  process was simple and rewarding.

The woman she helped had originally signed up to cook for others but then found herself on the receiving end of help.


She said: "Her circumstances changed. She contacted me through the Facebook page and asked if I could provide meals for her and her granddaughter.

"I had stuff in my freezer, I've got a family and I batch cook, I've always got soup and things like that. I gave some soup and made a chicken lasagne because she didn't eat red meat and gave them some things from the freezer like fish fingers. I made up a bag.


"I met the lady half-way between her and I in the car park of a restaurant, with our masks on.

"It's so simple. You literally join the group and post the first part of your postcode and say whether you want to be a cook or a recipient.

"Then anybody who is needing a meal can search on the group for a postcode that's  near their area. 

"I've actually only done it once, there doesn't seem to be many people in my area who have signed up to it.I donate to food banks but it's just such a good way to prevent food waste and help someone else. It makes you feel good.

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"If someone contacted me, I would absolutely do it again. I would hope that I wouldn't be in that position myself and I'm lucky enough that I can provide for someone else. If I was in that situation, I'm sure someone else would provide for me."

Food banks have faced soaring demand as a result of the coronavirus, while having to try operate safely amid the risks of the virus to both volunteers and clients.

The Broke Not Broken food bank in Kinross has seen a 10-fold rise in the number of parcels being handed out – from 32 in May 2019 to 320 in May last year.

The meal share scheme is not a substitute for foodbanks, says Ms Steere, who is a teacher and lives in Surrey, but  a 'top-up' and she says many in England are now sign-posting families to it and hopes this could be replicated in Scotland.


She said: "It would be absolutely fantastic to get the word out there any more and possibly encourage more people to get involved.

"We run a champion volunteer project and do a bit of training but ultimately they know their communities better than us.

"None of us can really afford to give money to charity at the moment but you might be able to cook a bit extra spaghetti bolognaise. 

"If you are wishing to remain anonymous, that's fine - we can do that for you. 

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"Also if people are not on Facebook, they can go onto our website and there is no obligation to deliver anything, the arrangement is between you and the recipient.

"You could say, I'm offering four portions of spaghetti, they will be frozen tonight and perhaps you might want them over the next couple of weeks, collection only.

"You don't even have to give your address - I'm a teacher so I always have my safeguarding hat on. You might say, I'm going to leave it by the postbox on this street corner at 6pm and you can wait in your car to make sure they get it.

"Essentially if you want to find a meal in your area, or help out, it's a perfect tool."
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