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Tesco in Gravesend saving food for the needy rather than the bins

Whether it’s the traditional British fare of a fish and chip supper, or a more modern boost of nutrition like avocado on toast, there’s no doubt that we are a nation that loves food.

But while it often feels as though you can’t walk 10 yards without coming across a supermarket, corner shop, or takeaway, anti-poverty charity the Trussell Trust reported last month that the use of food banks across the country was on the rise.

In addition to people living on the streets and those struggling to pay the bills using food banks, others rely on food to be delivered to them, such as older people who can’t get out of the house.

The increased need for help has put plenty of pressure on charities and hoping to lend much needed support is Tesco’s Community Food Connection scheme, which is rolling out at stores nationwide and launched at the store in New Road, Gravesend, this week.

Gathering of charities involved in a new food donation scheme at Tesco, New Road, Gravesend
Gathering of charities involved in a new food donation scheme at Tesco, New Road, Gravesend

Store manager Richard Mills explained: “At Tesco we’re committed to ensuring that no food that’s edible goes to waste, either in our farms, in our stores, or in our customers’ homes.

“This new project links with an app called FareShare FoodCloud so that any food fit for human consumption is donated rather than goes in the bin. That donation goes to local charities to help feed people in need.

“Food waste is a massive topic at the moment and Tesco has got a big responsibilty to minimise that waste.

“There are a lot of charities in the area doing a fantastic job on limited resources and to be able to link those things together, to use our excess food to make their lives a little bit easier, will make it easier for them to serve the people that use their charities.”

Food that doesn't end up in people's shopping baskets will be offered to good causes
Food that doesn't end up in people's shopping baskets will be offered to good causes

At the end of each day, items that are damaged, reduced to clear, or fail the store’s ‘would I buy it’ test — such as heavily bruised bananas — will be considered for donation rather than simply thrown away.

If the item is no more than one day past its best before date it will be donated, with items approaching their use by date also given away if they are suitable for freezing.

They are then set aside at the back of the store and charities are alerted to what’s available via the app. If a charity wants to take the items, they let the store know and arrange to pick it up.

Sanctuary, the House of Mercy, Age UK, and The Bench Cafe have signed up to the scheme so far. The House of Mercy will pick up items on Mondays and Fridays, Age UK on Tuesdays, Sanctuary on Wednesdays, and The Bench Cafe on Sundays.

Judy Taylor from The Bench Cafe
Judy Taylor from The Bench Cafe

Mr Mills is hoping that others will sign up, with plenty of excess food to spare.

Judy Taylor from The Bench Cafe, based at The Gr@nd Healthy Living Centre in King Street, Gravesend, said: “It will be very helpful because the food we receive we can use it every day a week to help feed people who need it.

“We have always tried to promote healthy options. We provide food for those at the Visitor Centre who are learning English. We have Kent County Council funding to get lunch for this.

“We run work experience courses for young people aged 16 to 24. We also provide for others who have learning difficulties and we use the food for that too.”

Nicola Lennon from Age UK
Nicola Lennon from Age UK

Food is also a key part of what Age UK offers service users, with fresh meals and snack packs delivered 365 days a year.

A team of volunteers cook about 200 meals a day for people in Dartford and Gravesend, and Age UK’s Nicola Lennon said the Tesco scheme would provide a welcome boost.

“We cook for day centres in Gravesend and Dartford and deliver home cooked meal to the whole of north west Kent to vulnerable old people that can’t get out of the house or can’t cook for themselves,” she said.

“We have about 10 volunteers a day that come in and help out. We would not be able to run without them, they are a great help.”

Stephen and Lorna Nolan from Sanctuary
Stephen and Lorna Nolan from Sanctuary

Sanctuary and the House of Mercy are both homeless charities, which offer food, accommodation, and a hot shower for people seeking help from the streets of Gravesend.

Helen Ryan is a sister at the House of Mercy, a day centre based in Edwin Street, Gravesend, which this year marks its 25th anniversary.

“The aim is to rehabilitate people so that they are ready to go back to work,” she said.

“We organise courses for them, we help them if they have a problem with drugs or drink or whatever it might be.

“The only rules we have in terms of taking people in is that they don’t bring in drink, drugs, or any abusive behaviour.

“We have 22 residents at the moment and we want to get another hostel in Pelham Road because we’re having to turn people away. It’s sad that this is still needed. We had guys come in recently in floods of tears because of how excited they were just to have a shower.”

Sister Helen Ryan and Solomon Gebreysus from House of Mercy
Sister Helen Ryan and Solomon Gebreysus from House of Mercy

Her colleague Solomon Gebreysus added: “The Tesco scheme will help us a lot because we spend around £400 a week on food.

“We make meals and at lunch we make sandwiches.

“At any time any one is able to make their own sandwiches, tea and coffee. We try to make people more comfortable and make it like home.”

Lorna Nolan, one of Sanctuary’s administrators alongside husband Stephen, said homelessness was getting notably worse.

Usually the project, set up by City Praise Centre in conjunction with Gravesend Methodist Church and Churches Together in Gravesham, would take a break in August for staff and volunteers to recharge their batteries, but it’s on course to stay open this year.

Mrs Nolan said: “We have got people coming in from the age of 18 to 71. The 71-year-old man we had was a retired GP who had lost his home, would you believe.

“It can affect anybody. Of the people who come in, it’s about half and half between British and people from abroad.”

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