Volunteering during Coronavirus

I’ve been volunteering for FoodCycle for just over a year. Every day, with a full-time staff of less than 20, FoodCycle organises dozens of volunteers to cook and serve healthy, delicious meals to hundreds people in 43 locations across England.

Headshot of John Bilton smiling
John Bilton, Strategic Communications Manager, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I’m a ‘Project Leader’ for Kilburn, meaning I help to make sure our project has enough volunteers, that we’re getting enough food from our partners, and to keep an eye on the myriad other problems that crop up when you’re cooking for a bunch of strangers. We also run the sessions on the day, organising (in our case) about a dozen volunteers to cook and serve a three-course lunch for over 60 guests.

Anyone’s welcome to eat with us. The majority of our guests face problems in one form or another, from homelessness or poverty to loneliness. But we also get plenty of people from who come along each week to meet their friends and possibly get a little more involved in their community.

Of course, recently we’ve had to adapt to changing circumstances.

We can’t gather 60-plus people for lunch any more, but hunger and loneliness don’t vanish just because you’ve got to stay indoors. So FoodCycle has radically changed the way it operates: instead of being a place where people come to eat, we’ve become a delivery service.

The way people have stepped up to the plate has been remarkable. Not only do we continue to receive weekly deliveries of fresh fruit and veg from City Harvest (a charity which collects about-to-expire food from restaurants, supermarkets, etc), but communities and local businesses have come together to keep us stocked. People have spread the word in person, via community boards and social media and we’re feeding far more people now than we could when we needed to fit them all into a single room.

We turn the donations into food parcels which should be able to last a household for a week. Other volunteers then deliver it to our guests directly, leaving it outside their doors and having a (socially distanced) chat. Right now, 6,500 people a week are benefitting from a FoodCycle food parcel delivery.

FoodCycle has learned a lot from this. We’re helping more people than ever, and we’re reaching people we didn’t know about previously – those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t leave their home even before lockdown but who could do with some good food.

I volunteer because, while I believe that working for the government serves the public good, it can feel far removed from the people we’re helping. Meeting, cooking with and feeding people helps me to stay grounded and remember who we work for. It’s deeply rewarding.

FoodCycle is always looking for new volunteers. If you can bag food, or deliver it to people, fantastic. If you’re staying indoors, we’re also looking for people who can check-in with guests via phone, to make sure their delivery went smoothly and to offer someone to speak to. Get involved.

    Image credit:
  • John Bilton (1)