Lockdown left people from all walks of life struggling, but rather than sitting at home quietly, our communities came together to help those in need. One such example is Mid Surrey Community Fridges, a not-for-profit which has been helping redistribute food since 2017. During lockdown, they scaled up their operations to help feed the vulnerable and intend to keep the momentum going during the difficult times to come.
What is a community fridge? A community fridge accepts surplus food from supermarkets, producers, and individuals and redistributes it to the local community; both preventing food waste and helping those in need.
The project was inspired by a Jamie Oliver programme on food waste and before lockdown had progressed to three community fridge sites and a mobile van service for the Mole Valley District, processing around 2000kg of food per week.
When lockdown hit, Mid Surrey Community Fridges was suddenly processing an impressive 10,000kg of food every week. Operations were forced to change due to social distancing measures, so the community fridges became food parcel deliveries.
Normally, anyone can access the community fridges for free with priority given to those in need. However, during lockdown, recipients were mainly those referred from social care, the council, doctors, and the community.
“Many people struggle in this area; double income, low wage earners who suddenly find themselves in trouble, job loss, loss of the car, etc.” said Clare Davies, co-founder and CEO of the project. “These are generally the people who find themselves having to approach food banks. We are so happy that we can bridge that wage gap and at least provide some fresh bread, fruit and vegetables regularly. We are not a food bank but we are working with the food banks to support our community at this time.”
As we all know, lockdown left more people struggling than before.
“There was, and still is, a lot of fear and still people are not going out. Many people were on the shielded list and we had many referrals of disabled and mentally unwell people as well as those unable to make ends meet. At the peak, we were packing over 1000 parcels a week.”
Recipients of the parcels have given glowing feedback for the life-saving service.
One nurse said, “I was just going to crawl into bed when I got home, but now I’m smiling and feeling so much better as I’m chopping the veg to have a lovely home-made soup and I’ve got breakfast and lunch sorted for tomorrow. You have made a very tired and quite sad nurse suddenly feel happy and cared for and I’m crying tears of happiness and gratefulness and not hungry sadness ones.”
Public generosity and further funding have allowed Mid Surrey Community Fridges to keep up their good work.
Most of the food is supplied by FareShare, an organisation which redistributes surplus food. Their services usually come with a fee, but this was scrapped during lockdown, enabling Mid Surrey Community Fridges to collect 5 times as much food as normal.
The not-for-profit also received funding from a variety of Covid Crisis funds, as well as grants from WRAP, the Wisley Foundation, Community Foundation for Surrey, Clarion Futures, and Mole Valley DC. Community fundraisers were also a massive help, with Dorking Wanderers Football Club donating £1000 of food items per week for 3 months.
And the love kept coming. Existing volunteers were keen to keep working and new recruits brought numbers to 120. People were so keen to help out, there has been a waiting list for the last 5 months!
“Some have now returned to work but many are very happy to continue and have said how much it has helped their own mental health to have some purpose and to see the same faces they deliver to every week,” said Clare.
“The public generosity is what has helped us to keep going, as well as sports clubs doing Quiz nights, the Scouts and many others.
“In my opinion, the public outpouring of love and generosity is what has kept the country going, it has been extraordinary in extraordinary times.”
Going forward, Mid Surrey Community Fridges hopes to keep processing 10,000kg each week now they are equipped with seven hubs for packing parcels, five static fridges, and a mobile fridge. As lockdown eases, they are shifting away from deliveries, encouraging people to come collect their food if they can.
“This crisis is far from over and even though we are trying to reduce our deliveries, we will still be packing at least 700 bags a week as we foresee an increased need in the months to come as the redundancies and financial crisis hit,” said Clare.
If you are interested in learning more about Mid Surrey Community Fridges, donating, or accessing support head to https://midsurreycommunityfridges.co.uk.
All photos in this article are credited to Mid Surrey Community Fridges, courtesy of Clare Davies.