This incredible food bank is dishing out more than 15,000 free meals every week to those in need during lockdown – using food being thrown out by supermarkets.
A team of 50 volunteers collect up to five tonnes of leftover groceries and whip them into a variety of balanced healthy meals.
They are then delivered to 900 families who are struggling to make ends meets in south west London.
The Community Food Bank at St Saviour’s in Sunbury is run by Claire Hopkins, who rises at 5am every day to get the operation underway.
She estimates around 1 in 9 families in the local area will be missing a meal or going to bed hungry which she describes as an ‘’injustice’’ given ‘’there is an absolute mountain of food being binned and you have people who are starving and need food.”
Before the pandemic the food bank produced around 5,000 to 6,000 meals a week for 400 families being supported in Feltham and surrounding areas.
Since lockdown that number has more than doubled to around 900 families a week with anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 meals being produced.
Mrs Hopkins started as manager at the food bank more than three years ago and quickly turned it into an operation that partners with local supermarkets.
Every day her volunteers visit stores such as Costco, Marks & Spencer and Tesco to collect everything from fruit and vegetables to cakes and meat which are just past their sell-by-date, but still edible, and would otherwise be heading to landfill.
The majority of families that Mrs Hopkins helps have been referred.
However she says the demographic of those seeking assistance has changed dramatically since lockdown.
It now includes those who were on zero-hour contracts, small business owners, self-employed construction workers and beauty therapists.
She said: ‘’A lot of these workers tell us they’ve never done anything like this before [accept help from a food bank] and they are mortified. But a food bank is for everyone and we will help anyone.
‘’It’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook when it comes to preparing the meals – we work with the ingredients we have on the day. One day it could be chicken, mash and vegetables, the next day it could be burgers.’’
The food bank also uses facilities in Ashford and Stanwell where the meals are prepared and frozen before they are included in food bags which are handed out and will include a number of other items such as tinned food, cake, fruit and vegetables.
Mrs Hopkins, who lives in Feltham said: ‘’My days begins at 5am with sending out emails and then getting the children ready for school.
Prepare the food
“We then go to our local, partner supermarkets to collect surplus food and then return to the site to sort and prepare the food.
“In the afternoons, we will serve people and give out the food, before cleaning down and packing down for the day.
“I leave around 3pm to pick up my children most days, but it is a 24/7 job. When I get home, I will continue with admin work and speaking to various different people.
‘’There is nothing else I would rather do. This is a rewarding job and I love it.’’
And while those who benefit from the food bank are very grateful, Mrs Hopkins is in turn thankful to staff at Oak Hill Academy in Feltham who also recommend her food bank to some of the families of children at the school.
As a key worker she is able to drop her twin boys, William and Lewis Hopkins, 11, off at the school where she knows they will be looked after and cared for allowing her to concentrate on a job that has now become a seven-day a week operation.
She said: “My message to school staff is that you’re making a huge difference!
“Allowing people like me to continue with my work means that I am able to help so many families in our community. I am so, so grateful!
“Over the Easter break and even the Bank Holidays, the staff at Oak Hill went above and beyond the call of duty to care for the children of key workers.
“The sports and activities provided by the Premier Education team during the Easter break were fantastic.
“Without the phenomenal support from the team at Oak Hill, who have effectively been providing free childcare for my twin Year 6 boys, I would not have been able to do what I do.
“It is so amazing that I can drop my kids off at school and know that they are safe, well cared for and actually enjoying themselves.”