Edinburgh chefs distribute healthy food packs to families for just 50p

Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts was set up by a group of out-of-work chefs at the start of the pandemic.
Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts was set up by a group of out-of-work chefs at the start of the pandemic.

An organisation of Edinburgh chefs have distributed more than 430,000 meals to families in the city during the pandemic, at a cost of just 50p per meal.

Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, an organisation set up by a group of out-of-work chefs in Leith at the start of the pandemic, has been distributing more than a thousand food parcels a day for the last week.

The group provides day packs — which include a main course, soup, bread and a snack — for free for anyone who asks, and are funded entirely by donations.

Marketing director Sonya Mathews told the PA news agency: “All of our food is rescued or donated. We rescue food waste from grocery stores, any restaurants, or theatres that are just going to throw it away.

“We have a team of chefs and hospitality workers who work in the kitchen and transform all of this donated and rescued food into these healthy meals for people in need.

“Both problems are equally astonishing in their scale – the problem with food waste and the problem of destitution and poverty.”

She criticised the “shameful” pictures of food hampers that have been circulated in recent days, and said seeing the low quality of food being given to children in need was “incredibly upsetting”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned some of the free school meal offerings being sent to families after images of poor-quality food parcels were widely shared on social media.

Ms Mathews, who trained as a teacher, said: “Actually helping people is either giving them enough food or giving them the means to provide the food for themselves. It really is that simple.”

Deliveries are made across the city of Edinburgh by volunteers.

“There are a few small food items that we buy because we rely entirely on donated ingredients,” Ms Mathews said.

“One week in the summer, we got practically only mushrooms. So we do buy a few small things but our costs are largely limited to petrol and any admin costs that crop up.”

She said the organisation will continue helping the Edinburgh community for as long as they are needed.

“It is critical – 1,041 people reached out to us to say ‘please help me eat food today’ and that is a cry for help. That’s a hard thing to do, so that means it’s really hard out there,” she said.

“I don’t think any of us thought this would go on for so long. We are a scrappy bunch of volunteers. How is it that we are doing this so well and successfully, and how are we still doing it 10 months later?”