Do you eat to live or live to eat? Not everyone is able to make a choice

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Do you eat to live or live to eat? Not everyone is able to make a choice

Food banks are needed more than ever and volunteers keep them going

There are many people, even here in the ‘affluent’ UK, who need help to source food. Many charities exist to tackle this need, but they cannot run without the help of a copious amount of volunteers. In my role as volunteer broker for the Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN), I went to visit and even helped out at some of these charities.

Teachers Amanda and Jacqueline started Give. Help. Share at the height of Covid when they became aware of the food insecurity of many of their pupils’ families. They contacted food companies which had surplus and started making up bags of healthy food which they then distributed to families who needed them. The food run extended to nine primary schools in Borehamwood and then further afield, the facilitation of which became impossible for the pair to sustain in their lunch hour.

Angie (second from left) and the team at Give. Help. Share

They have now both left teaching and are running their amazing charity full-time, and then some. Give. Help. Share delivers around 400 healthy food parcels a week to schools. It also implements food education workshops for children in Years 5 and 6. The need for this is real – Amanda and Jacqueline told me they had come across children who didn’t know how to peel a banana.

The food parcels do not get packed and delivered themselves and they need volunteers. In the short time I spent there it was very clear that the packing sessions, which take place in Give. Help. Share’s hub, Amanda’s garage in Elstree, are full of fun and meaning for the volunteers.

Packing up parcels at Give. Help. Share

The food bank at QCCA (Queen’s Crescent Community Association) in Gospel Oak is used by local people who need extra help to feed themselves and their families. There is no referral process. Volunteer co-ordinator Sarolta Blanar explained that QCCA’s ethos is that it is better to serve someone who might not need it as much, than to not serve someone who really does.

Abundant fruit at QCCA

The main donations are from organisations that collect surplus food from supermarkets, such as City Harvest and The Felix Project, as well as purchases from QCCA’s weekly budget and individual donations. Sarolta shared that the amount of service users is increasing – there are currently around 80, with 5-10 new people every week.

About six volunteers are needed per shift where they accompany one service user at a time to pick out fruit, vegetables, tinned goods, bread, milk, meat/vegetarian products. After my shift, there was still some food left over which Sarolta informed me goes outside the centre in baskets for people to help themselves.

My final visit of this eye-opening and humbling experience was to GIFT (Give it Forward Today) situated on two sites in Hendon. When I stepped into the Giving Kitchen, I thought I’d walked into a party. There was music, schmoozing, beautiful food and a highly efficient packing and labelling system. The food is cooked by head chef Sarah Isaac who comes up with new menus every week and tries them out on her family first. I was shown around by founding director Michelle Barnett MBE. She explained that GIFT provides and distributes 500 meals a week, mainly to elderly people who are unable to cook for themselves.

The team at GIFT

GIFT already had a food bank, but the Giving Kitchen project started during Covid when all other charities closed their doors. Michelle, the warehouse manager at the time, had people coming in to volunteer in family units from morning until evening. This was facilitated by WhatsApp groups – there were volunteer drivers, packers and shoppers as well as tutors and befrienders for other projects. I felt a real sense of community when I was there and shared with Michelle that the word on the Jewish street is that ‘if you want something doing, ask GIFT’. She beamed. “We’re all so passionate about it –  we all love our work and we get so much from it. Giving is kind of infectious, you just want more and more of the feeling.”

With the help of international food project expert Lauren Fried, this initiative became more structured and grew into the sensation that it is today. GIFT has shared its expertise with the Central Synagogue in the West End, which now has its own kitchen project.

Not only does GIFT donate meals to the Jewish community, but also 50 – 100 soups to a women’s shelter and other families living in temporary accommodation. Michelle took me up the street to GIFT’s warehouse which provides food items to people who are able to cook for themselves. The food is supplied by supermarkets’ surplus, Food Bank Aid and local donations from GIFT boxes in kosher shops.

All requirements are considered at GIFT

The packing and distribution system is carried out with the utmost discretion and the parcels are dropped off all across London with a ‘knock, drop and run’ system. Nobody is forgotten, with special bags containing gluten-free, diabetic, hechshered and – this one really got to me – food items for people with no cooking facilities.

Michelle sent me on my way with some fresh fruit salad and a request to mention that they were also looking for befrienders.

It had been a sobering experience. None of these charities could do the amazing work they do without volunteers. The task in hand is serious, but the volunteering sessions are fun, interesting and rewarding. The late Rabbi Sacks summed it up beautifully: “It’s what we give to others, more than what we get from others, which makes for a meaningful and happy life”.

Please commit to volunteering in the new year. Even a short session can make so much difference. The charities need your help in order for these projects to run. For roles at Give. Help. Share, QCCA, GIFT, Felix Project, City Harvest and Food Bank Aid, please apply at

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