Every day, more than 2,000 tons of usable food is thrown away in London. At the same time, more than two million Londoners go hungry. In London, one of the world’s richest cities, more than a quarter of the population suffers from poverty and hunger. Fortunately, there are projects like City Harvest. The organisation is dedicated to taking action to fight hunger and food wastage. “We have saved four million meals so far and distributed these to Londoners in need,” explains the team run by the founders, Bruce Marquart, Laura and Stephen Winningham, proudly.
City Harvest supplies more than 250 charity partners with food. The recipients include hostels for the homeless, soup kitchens, youth centres, refugee and asylum seeker accommodation, nursing homes and organisations for people with disabilities and many others.
“Our vision is of a Great Britain where everyone has access to nutritious, healthy food regardless of income or situation. Good food is a right, not a luxury and it is our mission to make sure that everyone has access good food.” The organisation believes that the first step toward combating food waste and hunger consists of helping individuals. “A recent study has determined that for every £1 that is invested in City Harvest, we deliver £8.10 in social impact value.”
We also envision a world where no food fit for human consumption is sent to landfill.
City Harvest was founded in 2014 and was London’s first charitable organisation for the distribution of surplus food. It began as a non-profit organisation to help former criminals to re-integrate into society. The excess rapidly became too much for one single organisation and laid the foundation for City Harvest London.
Since then the project has grown rapidly: from a single charity partner to 250 supporters today. The organisation is financed by donations from private individuals, companies and foundations as well as subsidisation. Its start-up character makes City Harvest scalable to both a regional and national level. “We intend to grow in size and scale in the future.”
The team from City Harvest is on the road seven days a week. 19 team members including four full-time office workers and nine drivers ensure that food is collected and delivered in 27 London districts. “The dedicated City Harvest team – many of whom have faced hunger and adversity themselves – are passionate about food rescue.” The organisation focuses on “last mile food”. This means food with a use-by date of only one or two more days. This enables them to collect and distribute large quantities of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. “We have to be incredibly efficient and quick to ensure that all food gets to those who can use it.”
The organisation currently has a fleet of eight Sprinter to deliver the vast quantities of fresh food on time. The drivers pick up the food donated locally and from the City Harvest warehouse and distribute it to food programs throughout the region – every day. The best thing: the vans have integrated cooling and deep freeze functions. “We chose Mercedes because of its reliability and its suitability for transporting refrigerated and frozen foods. They are able to carry large volumes of food efficiently. They are easy to load, unload, and clean.”
“We have seen a large increase in public interest on the topic of food waste.” Awareness is one of the first steps toward battling food wastage. More and more companies are contacting City Harvest to help reduce their ecological footprint. At the same time, more and more community organisations are also contacting the project to register for food donations. The number of people living at or below the poverty line also continues to rise. “We have the means to combat and eliminate food insecurity in the UK, it is just a matter of connecting with more food businesses.”