Food as a helping hand: How food charities reach out to those in need
Posted by Jane De Graaff on April 21, 2011.
Food Guru looks at food as a way of making a difference.
‘Think of the starving children in Africa’.
It’s been the refrain of mother’s everywhere trying to teach fussy children the value and importance of food. And it’s a valuable lesson. Food nourishes, it brings pleasure and it can bring people together, but more and more it’s becoming a tool of empowerment, a tool for change and a chance to reach out to those in need.
Anyone who has worked in hospitality will know the amount of waste that results from a regular night of trade- and not just in half eaten dishes that come back from the table. So if we want our food to be more than a tool for pleasure, but also a force for change, where do we look?
It was a question that prompted Ronni Khan, founder of Oz Harvest Food Rescue, into action back in 2004.
As a not-for-profit, non-denominational charity Oz Harvest redistributes food that would otherwise go to waste. The excess is delivered to a variety of charities supporting the vulnerable right around Australia, and donations come from any appropriate source with excess produce that can be used to feed those without.
“We’re collecting 15tonns of excess food in Sydney alone a week.” Says Lisa Stapleton, Oz Harvest volunteer co-ordinator.
“That’s huge. We have 7 vans that allow us to do that. We’re pretty close to capacity, but it’s rare that we say no to anyone who wants to donate. We always succeed in getting there. We’re looking at getting more vans on the road. But it continues to grow and we just need to grow with that.” She smiles.
“We deal with 180,000 meals every month. We've put an extra van on the road each year of operation. It’s consistent.”
Certainly the redistribution of food has caught Australia’s imagination.
“There’s more interest now- the whole globe is focused on sustainability. People are starting to care about where food comes from and where it goes, in regards to all aspects: power, fuel, everything. And there’s more awareness as time goes on.”
For Oz Harvest their greatest asset is a logistics team than not only arranges collection and cataloguing of excess food, but that then has the mammoth task of deciding how best to redistribute the food to where it is not only most needed, but where is can be accepted and dealt with in an appropriate manner.
“Food collections and drops offs are usually done in the same areas, that makes sense. But the challenge is getting to so many different types of charity who take our deliveries. From hostels to youth on the street, they all have different facilities. So we need to think about how they can handle the food. Some have big kitchens with plenty of cold storage, but some have just a little kitchen in a terrace. We have to be aware of what they have.”
It’s a giant task, and one that’s not taken lightly by the Oz Harvest team.
But the redistribution of food is only one form of food charity, and whilst it addresses the immediate problems and complexities of excess produce, it’s by no means the only way that food can make a difference.
For Kay Richardson of the Children’s Food Education Foundation and Young Gourmet, redressing the imbalance of food resources is as much about education as it is about the physical food itself, something akin to the old adage ‘teach a man to fish’.
Richardson works to develop resources that support the disadvantaged in making sound and educated food choices that might otherwise be unavailable to them through lack of information.
“We’d like to see ourselves as a charity to enable others to understand the issues surrounding food and actively go out and do something to change that.” Says Richardson, who struggles to put her foundations activities into words because of the scope of what they hope to address.
“We see ourselves as being a motherhood charity, enabling others. We can’t go out and give cooking lessons to thousands across the country, but we can provide resources to allow others to do that…”
Fundraising projects like the current The Big Feed help the foundation raise awareness and money to improve the facilities of not-for-profit organisations caring for children and young people, supporting their efforts to nourish and educate those in their care. Funds also help develop DVDs and other educational resources like the “Feed Yourself” series of teaching materials. It’s a big cause, and one that has long-lasting, far-reaching benefits as long as they have continued support.
For both Richardson and Stapleton, they’re constantly amazed by the variety of people they come across who want to help.
“It often surprises me that our volunteers are from everywhere.” Says Stapleton. “We have lawyers, students, retirees. There’s no typical type. Everyone’s mother or grandmother has told us about the ‘starving children’ in the world, so it’s an idea that reaches across a wide sector.”
And with so many people needing support and assistance, it’s as well to be aware of all the different and practical ways in which we can help.
• Young Gourmet & Children’s Food Education Foundation at Food Guru
• Oz Harvest Food Rescue at Food Guru