It’s almost impossible to fully understand the far-reaching implications of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions. Schools, gyms, restaurants and many more were closed indefinitely overnight, leaving many people unemployed and financially unstable. Amongst the many devastating effects, demand for emergency food services doubled. This surge, brought on by the closure of many facilities providing emergency food, seemed like an insurmountable challenge. Nonetheless, the extraordinary work of social enterprise FoodCloud and a small team of volunteers in Wicklow who founded Good Grub proved the power of goodwill, kindness and collaboration during a crisis.
Why did the demand for free food services double?
By late March, 40% of food charity services closed due to coronavirus restrictions. These volunteer supported services would usually provide meals in a physical setting, and as restaurants and cafés closed, so did these facilities. Demand didn’t go away for these services. In fact, it doubled, with FoodCloud signing 32 new charity partnerships in March and 55 more charities on a waiting list. The real demand for food parcels was seen in April and from March to May, the volume of food parcel demand skyrocketed, setting new records for each month.
Despite these testing circumstances, FoodCloud rose to the challenge. “Our goal was always to maintain our services for the 500 organizations we work with”, said Vivienne Lawlor, FoodCloud’s Head of Communications. FoodCloud’s app connects food retailers with charities so that they can efficiently donate good food that would otherwise be thrown away. New health and safety measures created many new challenges for FoodCloud’s warehouses. Office-based teams moved quickly to working remotely and physical distancing meant that the same support team had to double the work and a shift system was put in place, with volunteers and staff working through the night. Vivienne dedicated the success of their organization during the crisis to the strength, passion, and kindness of the FoodCloud team.
Meanwhile in Dublin, Denis O’Reilly was forced to temporarily close his two businesses, Wild Wicklow Tours and Difference Days. Wondering what he would do next, Denis realized, “there’s not a lot you can do except give back”. Denis understood that these families from disadvantaged backgrounds would need support while the schools were closed. 1 in 4 children are living in households experiencing deprivation of two or more basic necessities. Through a donation of fresh fruit and veg from Begley Fresh Produce, Denis and his family packed up enough food packs to be sent to 1000 families of DEIS schools in Dublin. This act of kindness from the O’Reilly family only showed him that the need was much greater than anticipated. With a GoFundMe launched on Good Friday and a website live by Easter Sunday, Good Grub was born with the aim of providing nutritious food through donations.
By the following Tuesday, Good Grub had reached its initial goal of €100,000. They then partnered with Glanmore Foods who would take care of food packing and since the week after Easter, 5000 packs of food have been sent out each week. This is equivalent to 20 tons of food per week.
Denis explained that they needed to find a way to keep momentum going. He discovered the #thecommunitycall fund from ChangeX, supported by the Web Summit, and submitted an application.
Through the fund, Good Grub secured €50,000 to spread their work to 13 counties across the country. At this point, “Good Grub grew legs” as Denis described it and soon after, the corporate world got involved with generous support from Bank of Ireland, SMBC Aviation Capital, and many more companies. One of Good Grub’s key charity partners is the Aisling Project in Ballymun. Aisling Project manager, Mícheal Clear reflects on what Good Grub has meant to them and the families they work with:
“It shouldn’t be forgotten that this pandemic forced people to be apart and it didn’t sit well with us. Delivering the food is a medium, an opportunity to have a 20-second chat and find out how people are. During very dark times, this was a little something we could do to show the families in the Aisling Project that we were thinking about them. The food packs alleviated a lot of stress for many families and we were delighted to be a part of it”
– Mícheal Clear, Project Leader of the Aisling Project
Their next goal was to get government support. Through the FEAD Managing Authority in the DEASP, Denis was able to negotiate s supply of non-perishable product as part of EU’s FEAD Food Aid program. This product is now providing 1,275 packs to families in most need every fortnight along with the Good Grub packs for July and August while the children are on holidays. These packs are also distributed through FoodCloud, who are the national FEAD distribution partner in Ireland working closely with the DEASP. The support then continued as the government extended the school meals program over the summer months.
To date, GoodGrub has raised more than €500,000, delivered over 55,000 food packs with an estimated 35,000 more to be delivered throughout July and August, an incredible feat for a team of volunteers. Denis dedicates the success to his luck in finding amazing partners to work with, such as FoodCloud, Glanmore Foods, and the Aisling Project. At FoodCloud, a team of 74 people made it possible for over 20 million meals to be delivered to 500 charity partners. A further 65 million meals were rescued in the UK and delivered to more than 9,500 charities. Even with the added complications of social distancing measures and an exceptional increase in demand, the power of collaboration between organizations and teams of selfless volunteers made it possible for all of this to be achieved.
What’s next for Good Grub?
Denis pointed out that the need is still there and it’s not going away anytime soon. Good Grub now intends to reshape its model to become a sustainable business, so they can continue to provide food and support to families in need across Ireland.
COVID-19, its restrictions and consequences put a stop to life as we knew it. Our day to day routines were changed indefinitely and the country came to a standstill. FoodCloud and Good Grub showed that the biggest challenges can be tackled through teamwork and kindness. Their initiative provided essential support for the vulnerable and inspired many more to make change in their communities.
Do you have an inspiring story to share with us? How has your community supported the vulnerable during lockdown? Let us know at [email protected]
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