It was my ten year old son, Felix, who inspired me to start the Felix Project, with his typically generous response to seeing hungry children of his own age at a football tournament.
This morning 70,000 London children went to school hungry. I am expecting that our own research will shortly show this 2019 figure to be far higher. Child hunger in the Capital has soared over the past year, as unemployment has risen, following the Covid pandemic. One of my enduring memories of the last year is of a woman at a community kitchen in Hammersmith, stuffing her lunch into her coat pockets for her children.
So this summer our broad based food redistribution charity will return to its roots to focus on children again.
In July we are launching what we hope will become the largest social kitchen in Europe. There we will prepare up to 10,000 nutritious meals a day from fresh surplus food for delivery to children on free school meals and others in need.
There is no reason at all why every London child should not be able to eat nutritious food which tastes good. The amount of surplus but perfectly edible fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat, bread and dairy food generated by the food industry is astonishing. The problem is that almost all of it ends up in anaerobic digestion plants and landfill and very little indeed reaches hungry people. This has to change.
Some of the current meal alternatives for children in need are not acceptable. In January this year ‘ Roadside Mum ‘ posted on Twitter an image of the ‘ sad and depressing ‘ food parcel provided to her children by Chartwells for the Government,
One journalist memorably described this parcel, including two tins of beans and spam, sliced white bread and three small potatoes, as a poverty picnic. And it reminded me that many food banks, which do critical work, too often provide food in packets and tins with low nutritional value, because this is what they in turn are given by the public.
At that time we at Felix posted an image of the amount and huge range of fresh food we could provide for the same cost.
The response on social media was so encouraging that it got us thinking about what we could do next.
Our Kitchen will be in the heart of Tower Hamlets where, according to a coalition of child poverty charities, 55% of children live in poverty in an area which has the very highest deprivation rate in the whole of Europe.
The Felix Kitchen will stand in the shadow of Canary Wharf, whose visible skyline must be the very symbol of affluence for many living in Tower Hamlets.
I urge London’s big businesses, located next door at Canary Wharf and elsewhere in London, to adopt and support our Kitchen.
Because all the food we use is surplus and donated, we believe our meals will cost us just 75 pence each, which represents great value by any measure. But they need funding.
Last month financial firms KKR and Kepler Cheuvreux stepped forward, alongside the McLain Foundation and, of course The Evening Standard, to support us. We salute them and our other donors.
Now we need others to join them, so that the Felix Kitchen can become part of London’s great response to the Covid crisis.
Justin Byam Shaw is the founder of The Felix Project. Corporate supporters wishing to help fund the social kitchen should firstname.lastname@example.org