“When we launched Food Aware in Mexborough in 2007, food waste was still considered something of a taboo subject,” says Sean Gibbons, Food Aware’s managing director.
“People didn’t really understand food labels recommendations – things like ‘best before’ dates and what they really mean – and companies were uneasy about sharing anything past its ‘best before’ date, so as result were wasting everything they didn’t sell.
“We focused on targeting the big supermarkets, and starting conversations with them about food waste and its impact, and how things could be done differently.
“Today, just a few years on from that, the attitudes to food waste have completely changed. Big supermarkets are now competing with one another for the best way to handle their surplus food. They all have pro-active schemes in place to help them share food direct to the people that need it in their communities.”
Food Aware is now a not for profit social enterprise. Sean and his team established the organisation in Doncaster over a decade ago to find ways of redistributing surplus food, diverting it from potential waste to human consumption in needy communities, or other environmentally friendly means of reuse.
“It’s not just food from shop floors, we also deal with the food that never makes its to the supermarket shelves, often for purely cosmetic reasons,” Sean explains.
“This could be items that have been rejected for being the wrong size or shape, like wonky veg. We pass this on to people who are struggling to eat, using food that would otherwise be wasted to help feed them and their families.
“And it’s working. Each week, we are working with big names, like Morrisons, Lidl, Sainsburys, and Marks and Spencer, to save between two and four tonnes of food from wastage in the local area.
“We then redistribute this to our network of around 50 partners across the region, where it is cooked up in shelters, packed into food parcels, or given to food banks, and used to support between 500 and 600 people in the region every single week.”
And for Sean, who is also councillor for Mexborough First, in addition to his day-to-day work with Food Aware – dealing with operations, strategies, funding and marketing – it means a great deal to be able to give so much back in his own community.
“I personally find the work of Food Aware hugely satisfying, though it’s obviously very challenging, as budget cuts and grant reductions mean we’re constantly trying to figure out how to do more with less” he says.
“It’s very different from where I started out, working in the banking industry for 20 years. I began doing more work in the third sector in around 2002; joining my neighbourhood watch, becoming a school governor, and a director of community partnerships.
“I began to understand more about the communities we all live in, and about the impact of things like food and education, specifically when they were lacking.
“I saw firsthand the difference it could make when a tray of good surplus food was delivered to a community social club where people were coming to spend time together, to get them out of the house and socialising. I saw food supporting volunteers, I saw people at community events being offered something to take home to enjoy over the weekend.”
And when it comes to communities, Food Aware also does its best to ensure that nobody misses out on the enjoyment of any occasion, running campaigns at Christmas and Easter to make sure that everybody gets the opportunity to celebrate.
“Our Easter Donation campaign is running for the fifth year this year, and it’s a testament to these communities and the businesses in them that this campaign gets bigger every time we do it,” Sean explains.
“We teamed up with JP Walton & Son again, loyal supporters of Food Aware, who have agreed to match every community donation we receive. This year we aren’t just looking for Easter eggs, but Easter craft sets, and art supplies, as well as donations of tinned and packet food to help give local foodbank supplies a much-needed boost.
“Those wishing to donate have until Tuesday April 9 to drop their donations in at Mexborough outlets, including the Weekender office on High St, Nat West bank, Halifax bank, and Nina Evelyn Hairdressing.
“All donations will be collected on Wednesday April 10 by the Easter Bunny and distributed in time for Easter.
“It’s also been fantastic to see more local businesses and community partners come on board in a voluntary capacity to help those less fortunate, such as RBS/Nat West Personal & Business Banking team, based at Manvers, that have had a team of approximately 70 staff collecting Easter eggs and staple food items for the campaign, plus a Volunteer Bag Packing day at a local supermarket to further boost donations.”