On Saturday 4th July I was one of 20 volunteers who ran a pop-up cafe in Sharrow, Sheffield and together we fed an amazing 161 people all with waste, surplus and excess food. The meal was provided on a pay-as-you-feel basis with donations of £680 received on the night. The feedback has been incredible with a lot of people really appreciating the opportunity to all sit down and eat together in a local community space.
The Real Junk Food Project is a national network of cafes all operating on a pay-as-you-feel basis turning waste or surplus food into meals for local communities. I currently work for an environmental regeneration charity in Leeds and became aware of the project through their social media crowd-funding campaign in 2014. The campaign, to raise funds to purchase premises in Armley, included videos of founder Adam Smith and his simple and ambitious message, ‘Let’s REALLY Feed the World’ struck a chord with me and I was inspired to not only donate some money, but also to find out more.
The timing of the project starting up in Sheffield has coincided with me being made redundant and I was really looking for something to take my mind off the stress and strain that goes along with that experience. It was also important for me to connect with Sheffield again: I’ve lived in this wonderful city for over 20 years now but working so far from home has been unexpectedly difficult. Having spent my working career wholly within the charity sector, I have met some truly inspiring volunteers and I haven’t been disappointed with the fantastic and rewarding experience to actually be one myself.
Anyone who knows me will be acutely aware that I am not a cook so it might seem a strange choice of activity for me but I’ve found myself to be useful in collecting the waste food from local shops, and of course lots of chopping fruit and vegetables, and washing-up! Even though the day was a lot of hard work – carrying boxes of food up and down my steep drive at home, and lots of time on your feet in the kitchen – it was thoroughly enjoyable the entire time. I think I had a grin on my face solidly for about 8 hours, although the DJs providing a wonderful mix of funk and soul music did help with that as well!
Volunteering might not be something that everyone considers, particularly if you already work full time and have a busy home life. I certainly questioned if I even should be doing it when I’m working full time, commuting 10 hours a week, and needing to look for another job. There is no doubt in my mind though that, even helping out in a small way for a few hours a month does absolute wonders for my physical and mental wellbeing – the power of smiling and helping others can certainly not be underestimated!
If you would like to volunteer your time, or just come and join us for a meal, please visit the Real Junk Food Project Sheffield website.