While others across Scotland were busy opening presents and spending quality time with their families on Christmas Day, a team of dedicated volunteers were hard at work preparing hundreds of meals for people across Edinburgh for the week ahead.

The volunteers work alongside staff at Empty Kitchens Full Hearts (EKFH), a West Granton-based charity that rescues surplus food and turns it into healthy meals for those in need.

Since being set up by out-of-work chefs in April 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity has provided over 1,600,000 meals to people across the capital, free of charge and without judgement.

At present, EKFH supports around 650 service users at 300 addresses in Edinburgh, delivering ‘day packs’ – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks –  direct to the doors of those who need them, while also serving hot meals to walk-in guests at its weekly on-site hot food service. 

READ MORE: Edinburgh charity seeing 'huge' demand for pet food banks

Speaking about the work the charity does, Emily Gifford, Fundraising Manager at EKFH, told The Herald: “The core of what we do is turn food that otherwise would be wasted into meals and that is made into what we call ‘day packs’ which is soup and a roll and main meals and some snacks. What that contains just depends on what the donations are on a given day or week, and the chefs turn it into meals and then that is delivered to peoples homes by our drivers and cyclists.

“We are also working with some local community organisations as well as hubs so people have the option to pick their meals up from somewhere in their local area rather than have home delivery.”

In offering support to people in the capital who are facing a variety of different challenges, EKFH also tries to help ‘sign-post’ their users in the direction of other services they may be able to take advantage of.

The Herald: Empty Kitchens Full Hearts rescues surplus food and turns it into healthy meals for those in needEmpty Kitchens Full Hearts rescues surplus food and turns it into healthy meals for those in need (Image: Newsquest/Gordon Terris)

Ms Gifford added: “Our service users are living in all sorts of different circumstances. So for some people it might be short or long-term illnesses that mean that they are not able to get out to buy food or they are not able to cook it, for some people it may be lack of access to facilities, and for some people it may be not being able to afford food or a combination of all sorts of different things. 

“It’s very often the case that if somebody requires support with food for whatever reason that is often only one thing that might be a challenge for them. What we are trying to do now is work more closely with our service users to understand what all of their needs are and help sign-post them towards other services while we are meeting the need for food.”

EKFH began operating in Edinburgh’s Bridgend Farmhouse community hub before moving to The Old Dr Bell’s Baths venue in Leith. They arrived at their current home in Granton in December last year.

As a volunteer-led organisation, Ms Gifford noted that EKFH, in having only  a “small paid team”,  relies on the goodwill of those volunteers to make things tick – many of whom sign up to help over the festive period. 

She said: “We are very much a volunteer-led organisation. We have a small paid team but we rely on the goodwill of our amazing volunteers, lots of whom have been with us from the beginning.

“We do also see a bit of an extra influx of volunteers at this time of year, when some people maybe have a holiday or they are looking to do something around Christmas in particular. And we have our kind of regular volunteers who might help several times a week or a few times a month or year. It really varies.”

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, Ms Gifford said it was a normal “operational day” for the charity as they prepared meals for the week ahead.

She added: “We did an extra delivery day for all our users on Saturday so they had a Christmas meal on Christmas Day. For us, Christmas Day, because it’s a Sunday, is an operational day, which we spend cooking and packing.

“The key thing is that things don’t stop for Christmas for us. People need support year round and that’s what we are here for.”

EKFH has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help feed those in Edinburgh who would otherwise go without this winter.

So far nearly £3,000 has been raised of a £20,000 target, with the charity receiving matched funding by the Aviva Community Fund Cost of Living Boost.

You can donate here