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‘It’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook’: How FoodCloud and charities are fighting food poverty in the west of Ireland

As charities see demand increase this Christmas, the team behind FoodCloud is making things a little easier.

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty visiting a FoodCloud hub in February.
Fine Gael's Regina Doherty visiting a FoodCloud hub in February.
Image: RollingNews.ie

FOOD AND CHRISTMAS have long and rich associations – colossal turkeys, endless chocolates and heapings of post-dinner pudding. Yet many families find themselves relying on local charities to make it through the festive season.

Offering these charities a helping hand is FoodCloud, which officially launched its Galway branch at the end of November.

The company, which was founded in 2013, re-distributes surplus food from supermarkets and shops to charities. Already established across Ireland, FoodCloud’s new branch in Galway is the latest expansion for the young company.

Charities say they’re already seeing the benefits of the partnership with the company.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, CEO of Galway Simon, Karen Golden, said being able to provide food means families aren’t left with the stark choice of eating dinner or paying for rent.

The busy Christmas period brings its own challenges, Golden said, for families on low-incomes or who are homeless: “Trying to make Christmas happen in a hotel room is extremely difficult.”

While the housing crisis in Dublin often dominates headlines, Golden says the situation is arguably worse in Galway. In recent years, she has seen the profile of those the charity supports change from a majority of single, homeless men to “families and a lot of children” who are facing the consequences of “the shortage of secure and affordable housing in the city”.

But FoodCloud’s service is helping. Already, over 400 tonnes of food has been provided to over 50 charities in Galway and beyond. In Galway Simon, the food provided by FoodCloud, Golden says, has saved the charity between €10,000 to €12,000.

For Aoibheann O’Brien, the CEO of FoodCloud, the reason charities have responded so enthusiastically to the company is simple. “We are growing because we can provide charities with something that is valuable”, she tells TheJournal.ie.

41 million meals

Indeed, since being founded in 2013 the company has re-distributed over 41 million meals to 7,500 charities across Ireland and the UK.

The process is simple: when a supermarket has surplus food, it notifies charities using the FoodCloud app. The charities can then accept the food and collect it from the FoodCloud hub.

Aldi FoodCloud Christmas Appeal Co-founder of FoodCloud Iseult Ward and Aldi Communications Director Padraig Barry at the launch of the store's Christmas appeal in November. Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

The third hub in Galway, which will serve the west of Ireland, is the culmination of a long-term ambition for the company. “Our vision was always to have three hubs”, O’Brien says, with the third joining the established operations in Dublin and Cork.

From the Oranmore hub, FoodCloud will be able to support charities in a range of areas beyond Galway city, including Boyle, Ballinasloe and Loughrea.

O’Brien likens the process to the TV show Ready Steady Cook – charities will never know what food they might get from week to week. “We don’t order in food. One day we get 10 pallets of yoghurt. Another day, 10 pallets of potatoes”, she says. This means charities have to be “creative and inventive”.

With two full-time staff already in place in Galway, the company will remain busy over Christmas and into January, which O’Brien says is FoodCloud’s busiest period.

FoodCloud’s rise has paralleled Ireland’s worsening housing and homelessness crisis. “We were getting started as these issues were getting established,” O’Brien says, adding that “there are a lot more donors who could be working with us”.

Food rescue

One charity with a long-standing connection to FoodCloud is COPE Galway, which provides support to those affected by homelessness, domestic abuse and also offers help to older people.

In its annual report, the charity states that its “food rescue” programme has grown from “working with one store twice weekly in September 2014 to 15 weekly food rescues in 2017”.

“We have really tight budgets for our food and it has given us a bit of a variety”, COPE’s Executive Chef Geraldine Ryan tells TheJournal.ie

Before FoodCloud, the system was “ad hoc”, she says. “Without this platform, while food was available, there was never a vehicle to make a link in a safe and regulated manner.” She emphasises how being able access all kinds of food creates small, cumulative changes across their various programmes.

Depending on what they receive from businesses through FoodCloud, the food will go to a variety of uses. Chefs will put together tens of thousands of home meals for Galway’s older residents, while staff in COPE centres will use fruit as a healthy treat for kids.

Crucially, the system also gives charities the opportunity to decide what food they can and can’t use. It’s important to be “practical”, Ryan says.

“If there are three crates of radishes, you have to say no.”

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