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Feeding the local community in a global emergency

As Covid spread across London and lockdown came, people faced unemployment, mental health issues and increased food poverty. Edible London acted to help the vulnerable in our community.

January 20, 2021

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals covered in this Case Study:

Zero Hunger (2):
In Haringey, 34% of the borough’s 260,000 plus residents currently live below the poverty line and we know this figure is rising

Responsible Production and Consumption (12):
Despite the fact that Londoners produce less rubbish than other people in England, each year London’s households throw away 890,000 tonnes of food, of which 60 per cent (540,000 tonnes) is avoidable.

Good Health And Well-Being (3):
Good Health And Well-Being (3): Over 8000 Haringey residents were informed to shield to protect them from COVID 19, reducing the risk for the most vulnerable of society.

Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals

As Covid spread across London and lockdown came, people faced unemployment, mental health issues and increased food poverty. Edible London acted to help the vulnerable in our community.

After evaluating the situation, Sunny decided on March 22nd to stop the weekly weekend markets at Blue House Yard and Tottenham Green Market to focus on providing food to the community.

“As Covid hit I saw our only job was getting surplus food, and the food we grow out to our community. We had to scale up this operation – and shut everything else down”

Sunny Karagozlu, Founder of Edible London

On the 23rd a small team packed the first 19 food parcels from the headquarter at Wolves Lane, with the on-site, organically grown produce and supermarket surplus. A small operation started with six volunteers, collecting, packing and delivering hampers to local people. Organised quickly but safely, space was by the end of the week a larger operation that delivered 69 hampers.

After it was announced that local authorities had to provide food parcels to those who were shielding, Edible London was in need of a much larger space, since Haringey Council brought rapidly increasing referrals through their Connected Communities program.

On week two, the operation swiftly moved to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium underground Parking, thanks to Sunny’s connections and early understanding a large upscale was needed.

Within days, new volunteers were coming and helping thanks to an elaborated communication between the operation and back-end team. The integration, safety and wellbeing of the volunteers were as important as the quality and quantity of food provided.

Edible London - Covid Operation at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - 2m distance group picture.
Edible London – Covid Operation at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – 2m distance group picture.

The cold but large floor turned into an emergency distribution hub using the rapidly developed Edible London’s blueprint. Three weeks later, Alexandra Palace, the people’s palace was also set up to duplicate the operation.

Edible London - Covid Operation at Alexandra Palace - 2m distance group picture.
Edible London – Covid Operation at Alexandra Palace – 2m distance group picture.

The two spaces saw over 300 volunteers in 16 weeks. To guarantee everyone safety, masks were created by volunteers, large spaces between tables were used, to respect the 2m distance recommended. Safety protocols were created, volunteers were appointed facilitators, short training was happening for new starting volunteers and the volunteer area with hot drinks, snacks and vegetarian or vegan meals was set.

 

Edible London - Covid Operation Lynn and Will PPE Masters
Edible London – Covid Operation Lynn and Will PPE Masters
Edible London - Covid Operation - Jason and PPE station at Tottenham Hub.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Jason and PPE station at Tottenham Hub.
Edible London - Covid Operation - Vishal the cooker and volunteer at Tottenham Hub.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Vishal the cooker and volunteer at Tottenham Hub.

Edible London setup key partnerships with food suppliers and was supported with daily fresh fruit and vegetables and other surplus produce donated by our partners: Fresh & Fruity, Neighbourly, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Food for All and London Fruit & Veg Ltd.

On week 5, a side operation started. In addition to providing food hampers ready for families on the shielding list, another team was developing what is now Distribution. Thanks to Sunny’s connection in North London, two administrators started to organise parcels for organisations that could outreach easily to the public.

One one side, the family hampers preparation and the other the distribution, the team of volunteers could grow and more food be distributed.

By generously redistributing the food supplies to the people who so desperately need them during this crisis, it was made sure it was put to good use instead of being wasted.

Teamwork makes the dream work

In the first week of operation, we started with just 6 volunteers in the greenhouse. The operation grew to a volunteer base of 400 with at the peak 45 volunteers a day at Alexandra Palace and 35 at Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. This operation enabled us to broaden the range of volunteers engaged with Edible London and enable them to provide essential services to their community. At the beginning of the operation, the leadership team didn’t realise the positive effect this operation would have on the volunteers improving their well-being, and mindfulness, creating a community and friendships.

“Recently Covid-unemployed, Edible helped me through lonely times – while I helped the community. As an ecologist, I knew about Edible, so I jumped straight in, sorting produce, hamper packing, dumping rubbish, with an amazing team whose spirit was as infectious as Covid! I’m still at Edible, helping out whenever I can.”

Tiffany Robbins, Edible London Volunteer

Thanks to the restless team organising, there was not a day when food wasn’t going out. Upscaling the operations to process and distribute up to 4 tons of surplus food a day required a slick and efficient operation to deal with not only food deliveries but also surplus waste and packaging. Abiding by our ‘zero waste’ ethos, we innovated on how to use every material.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Sunny at Tottenham Hub.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Sunny at Tottenham Hub.

Thanks to the creativity of our volunteers, new departments were created to reuse and recycle. Here are some of the activities we carried out:

Logistics:

Since trucks loaded of food, mainly fruit and veggies amongst others were coming every day, planning, unloading and moving the loads on the floor required pallets jack drivers all in safety and security. Since motorized pallet trucks were available on site, we accredited three of our volunteers with the driving certificate.

Edible London - Covid Operation - pallet Truck certification for volunteers.
Edible London – Covid Operation – pallet Truck certification for volunteers.

Quality Control:

Once we started to receive more surplus fruit and vegetables from the market, a new team was developed. Numerous volunteers were classifying large quantities of food into three types:

    • For beneficiaries: good quality that could go to the beneficiary directly and that could be used in the next week. This was sent to the packing and distribution teams;
    • For meal preparation: good quality produce that would need to be used quickly. This went to the distribution team for our partners who could cook quickly;
    • For compost: Product that was not good enough to be used for cooking. When possible, we were sending this to our growing sites, where it was used for compost creation.

The volunteers were also removing the plastic and keeping it in crates for Eco Brick creation.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Pushing the veggies
Edible London – Covid Operation – Pushing the veggies
Edible London - Covid Operation - , Billie and Joseph quality sorting lettuces.
Edible London – Covid Operation – , Billie and Joseph quality sorting lettuces.

Packing:

Volunteers were creating nice hampers for families. In each hamper, you could find fresh fruit and veg, but also ambient, bread, drinks and ready meals from our partners who had cooked from the food we had provided. Some hampers had toiletries and special items such as gluten-free products, non-dairy or products for kids. The packaging material was provided by Haringey Council or donated to us.

The recently appointed Director and COO, Victoria – started to organise the operation from the first day at Wolves Lane, thanks to her accreditation and expertise in food and understanding of distribution, we had a solid foundation to expand. From week two, she trained volunteers, made sure the cleaning products and PPE were presents, bringing joy to the daily activities and made people laugh on top of strictly operating the full operation. Then she was managing the floors, both in Alexandra Palace and Tottenham Hotspur. Helped by Rachel, Chi and other amazing volunteers.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Chi preparing the ambient packs for the families.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Chi preparing the ambient packs for the families.
Edible London - Covid Operation - Volunteers preparing the fruit packs for the families
Edible London – Covid Operation – Volunteers preparing the fruit packs for the families

Distribution:

The distribution team was also developed after a few weeks of the operation. A handful of volunteers started to contact the different organisations providing food, cooking meals to a huge number of people needing food or care, to organise deliveries of good quality surplus veggies and fruit, as well as ambient products to redistribute to the local areas they help out.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Robbie and Chiara preparing beneficiaries orders
Edible London – Covid Operation – Robbie and Chiara preparing beneficiaries orders
Edible London - Covid Operation - Robert and one beneficiary about to load a car.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Robert and one beneficiary about to load a car.

Drivers:

Always present from the day 1 of the operation, the drivers crew has grown and changed a lot. Delivering hampers directly to the individuals in the first week, to collecting surplus or donations to bring them to our hub, to fully loading their cars of food and delivering to our numerous partners.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Finley and Maxime unloading M&S surplus donation.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Finley and Maxime unloading M&S surplus donation.

Admin:

Behind the scenes and on the floor, an admin team was growing. Uncountable hours have been put on the keyboards, coordinating volunteers, organising the operation, making sure the operation was safe and secure, writing protocols, and contacting partners were some of the activities. All spearheaded by Maxime, an incredible individual who still works behind the scenes, coordinating and creating an innovative technological structures that are needed to keep our work going.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Maxime, Vishal, Sunny, Alberta, Chiara and Erin in the new admin area.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Maxime, VIshal, Sunny, Alberta, Chiara and Erin in the new admin area.

The number of hours spent on meeting volunteers via video calls or messaging platform, training them, answering questions and improving the “systems” was tremendous. Daily coordinating volunteers, depending on a range of uncontrollable elements required headspace and dedications, which the team had. I witnessed a large range of knowledge and generosity through this period which helped the organisation carry on and amplify. I personally thank you.

Maxime Fazilleau – Chief Strategic Advisor – Volunteer

Artistic Creation:

It started with an idea from Victoria of re-using a veg carton to create a small sign, instead of printing. Shortly, all the signs were made of recycled material. Then furniture and walls for the volunteer area were made from reused wood and cardboard. Some volunteers got their creativity to the work and used the packaging to create accessories: bags from onion or potato-bags, purses, dresses. One idea emerged, having a Zero Waste Fashion Show. It had a really good

Edible London - Covid Operation - Magic Chris at the Zero Waste Fashion Show
Edible London – Covid Operation – Magic Chris at the Zero Waste Fashion Show
Edible London - Covid Operation - Rachel, David and Victoria with wooden made signs.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Rachel, David and Victoria with wooden made signs.

Waste management:

Some volunteers started to think about the management of the waste created. Since packaging was received in big quantities it became important to apply good practices and reduce the amount of detritus sent to landfill. Rapidly, the surplus food went to compost, bins were organised for the council to take away, plastic bottles and wrapping created another department, and other materials were kept for the creation department, or to reuse for the operation.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Megan, Sunny, Daniel and Jason building plant beds from reused materials.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Megan, Sunny, Daniel and Jason building plant beds from reused materials.
Edible London - Covid Operation - Daniel [accredited forklift driver] just filled up a carton bin.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Daniel just filled up a carton bin.

Eco Bricks:

Vegetables are packed in so much plastic wrap and much of it can not be recycled! This bugged us, how could we make use of this unnecessary waste? We got out thinking caps on and decided to start an Eco Brick project. Eco Bricks are plastic bottles stuffed tightly with plastic packaging and can be used as building bricks to make structures. Thanks to our amazing volunteers, we got this project off the ground and hope to make enough bricks this year to make a structure at one of our gardening sites.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Aukse, Victoria and Ana with the created sign.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Aukse, Victoria and Ana with the created sign.
Edible London - Covid Operation - Eco Bricks pyramid
Edible London – Covid Operation – Eco Bricks pyramid

Give back to the community

From the second month, two different operations were progressing. On one side, we were providing food hampers ready for families on the shielding list. Once the hampers were ready, they were handed over to the council operation, who was delivering to the individuals. This operation was mostly involving the packing and logistics teams. A staggering 22,800 hampers of fruit and vegetables were prepared in 15 weeks, equaling to 183,000 individual nutritious meals to the needy residents during the first wave of the pandemic.

The other side we had setup the distribution to our receiving partners. From surplus sorting to customized orders preparation, as well as driving, the different teams were working together and helping each other to organise the floor, the deliveries rotation and the hight energy present every day. At the peak of the operation, we distributed the equivalent of 40,000 meals per week to our beneficiary partners, with the help of our incredible volunteers, local community and partners.

The total number of meals distributed during the 16 weeks is estimated at 540,666 meals, with an estimated 128 tons of food saved from going to landfill.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Victoria, Maxime and Sunny with the stats of Week 7.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Victoria, Maxime and Sunny with the stats of Week 7.

For the first time, Edible London had the ability to employ a team from the local community to make this project a functioning reality.

“It was an upscaling partnership with Haringey Council for Edible London. And I think that we both most definitely got to serve our community to the best of our abilities together, and it could not have been done without each other and our amazing team of volunteers. So nothing but kudos to everyone involved. Teamwork really does make the dream work”

Sunny Karagozlu, Founder of Edible London

The impact this operation had in our community is unprecedented. The kindness, generosity and unity from all involved is a testament to our community and shows what is possible when we act out of love and kindness for one another. We hope everyone who joined us in the fight for food justice will look back on this time with gratitude and appreciate the miracles that occurred, the friends we made and love we shared. We can not thank you enough, you are all heroes.

Edible London - Covid Operation - Ana, holding “You are all Heroes!” Sign.
Edible London – Covid Operation – Ana, holding “You are all Heroes!” Sign.

It had a huge impact on the local community thanks to the volunteers, the donations, the partners and the love from everyone.

Edible London genuinely hopes all the volunteers involved have felt good, made new connections, had some regenerating time and good food to share.

We will not thank enough everyone who helped, so please recognise what you have achieved.

Conclusion

Edible London’s COVID Response ran for 16 weeks from Alexandra Palace and Tottenham Hotspurs to feed our community during the crisis, implementing sustainable practices through saving surplus produce and zero waste management.

Our COVID19 response set the blueprint for Edible London. We are now running our hub in Stamford Hill five days a week and are maintaining an output of 25,000 meals worth of fruit and vegetables being distributed to many organizations on the front line of food poverty. Tier 2 Food Bank* is what we are referred to but that in no way explains the level of care and uniqueness about what and how we do it.

Reducing food waste and redistributing it to the people who need it for free is difficult work but Victoria, leading the floor facilitators and operation, managed to constantly adapt to the different challenges occurring. With Maxime leading the admin team, they understood the effort it would need and constantly adapted with the different stakeholders.

Mobilizing the volunteers and interacting with them daily was crucial to keep a team growing. The operation was overnight mapped in all safety and security to respond to the constraints coming our way.
Supporting protocols that needed bespoke designing and administrative growth was achieved overnight.

With a small team of dedicated leaders and Sunny as their leader, with a vision without limits, the operation could always scale up and be efficient, both saving food and feeding the community, not forgetting the impact it had on volunteers and other organisations.

With an unpredicted 300 skilled individuals who helped co-create what is still running today, we can bring the statement to life “it takes a village to raise a child“ Edible London became a child of our community. One we all raised to be a pillar of support to us all.

As long as food inequality exists Edible London will continue to serve our community.

If you are inspired by our story and hopefully see you can be the change we need to see, get involved with Edible London.->

* Edible London has received the Bridge Renewal Trust Community Impact Award ‘Food Bank of the Year’ 2020.

 

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