City Harvest: Help The Charity That Redistributes London’s Surplus Food

Image: Matt Brown

“One in seven people face hunger across the UK because they simply don’t have enough money.”

So estimates the Trussell Trust, which has seen a 37% rise in the use of its food banks over the past year. It’s a scandal that food poverty is an issue at all in modern Britain, but the sheer scale of it is an absolute disgrace.

City Harvest is one of the key London charities trying to do something about it. In short, they’re all about redistributing food that would otherwise end up in the bin. They simultaneously tackle food waste and food poverty. But their impact on Londoners is far richer.

“Modern day milkmen”

City Harvest rescues more than 120 tonnes of food every week. To use the standard unit of London-ness, that’s equivalent to the weight of 15 Routemaster buses. Per week. This is food left unsold from supermarkets, restaurants and markets, or another part of the food supply chain. Here’s one wholesaler, talking about how City Harvest help to redistribute his own surplus.

The food is then redistributed via a fleet of refrigerated vans to 375+ partner charities and venues, who make sure it reaches the people who need it. Delivery points include food banks, schools, hostels, soup kitchens, refuges, and local community hubs. The system has delivered around 50 million free meals since it began operating in 2014. Its logistics are coordinated from a depot in Acton, with a smaller base at New Spitalfields Market, north of the Olympic Park.

The “food emergency service” goes beyond pure logistics, however. City Harvest’s drivers get to know the communities they regularly serve. They become like “modern day milkmen,” as the charity puts it, checking in on the people to whom they deliver.

City Harvest gets its own autobiography… and recipe book

The sense of community is brought to the fore in a new cook book from the charity. A Taste of City Harvest by Kristen Frederickson presents some heartwarming stories from the charity’s city-wide network.

We hear from Parkfield Primary School in Hendon, where City Harvest’s food crates are unpacked by Year Six students, and where “a delivery of cherry tomatoes becomes an instant maths lesson”. We visit a Wandsworth boxing club that, with City Harvest’s help, provides nutritious free meals for its young pugilists. We get insights into community projects that support women fleeing violence and trafficking, homeless people, and black and ethnic minority women in Tower Hamlets. Also present are the volunteers, depot workers, delivery drivers and co-founder Laura Winningham. All of human life is here… and getting better fed thanks to the charity.

Clearly, these projects don’t just serve up any old slop. The book also contains 27 recipes, teased out of the chefs at some of the partner charities. Each is easily put together with surplus food you might have at home. Got a surfeit of carrots? Try the vegan carrot cake recipe. Left-over lentils? Throw them into the super-easy tarka dahl.

Always need volunteers

The food poverty crisis isn’t going away any time soon. City Harvest’s work will be vital for the foreseeable future. If you want to help your fellow Londoners, the charity is always looking for volunteers. Roles include:

Unloading deliveries
Creating mixed trays of food for charities
Quality control — checking and grading fresh produce
Other warehouse tasks

Full training is given as needed, and you can book a shift here. There are also opportunities for corporate volunteering if your company is committed to Corporate Social Responsibility.

At the very least, we’d recommend getting hold of A Taste of City Harvest. The book not only gives you a larder-full of new recipe ideas, but also reassures that — in this bleak time for many — there are still so many wonderful, selfless Londoners out there. All proceeds are, of course, recycled back into the charity’s work.

Are you involved with a London-based charity that deserves a bit of a shout out? Contact with details.

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