In July and August, the warehouse was full with even more food than usual: bread, potatoes, carrots, milk, eggs, and lots and lots of pasta. The huge walk-in refrigerator was crammed with meat and cheese. Some of this was part of our regular supply of surplus food, but much of it is paid for by the Food Charities Grant Fund, a temporary programme from the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to get food to people who are hard-pressed financially during the Covid-19 crisis. Eggcup delivered 29288 kilos of food for this programme in seven weeks – or the weight of more than 20 hippos (plus a giraffe and a zebra). The food goes to food parcels going to clubs who participate in the Buying Cooperative and to the Olive Branch Food Bank.

This funding is new, but the basic idea has long been an aim of Project Manager David France. Eggcup was set up to source surplus food from supermarkets, restaurants, distributors, and farmers, and get it to people who need it. But the kinds and amounts of food that will be available each week are unpredictable, and David wanted to make sure that food club members could count on getting some basics, such as eggs, milk, and bread, every week. Back in January, he planned a buying cooperative, in which food club members would add £2 to their membership every week, and the collective buying power would get better deals on quality local foods than they could get in the shops. When the Coronavirus crisis started, it was possible to fund this extra food from a Transformation Challenge Award to Lancaster City Council. When that was running out, Eggcup led a consortium bid for the DEFRA money that allowed us to continue to subsidise the Buying Cooperative and add even more food to each week’s parcels.

David and his team, experts at the surplus food system, have engaged with local wholesalers with good quality products who can provide fresh food in bulk. Meat, for instance is from Althams Catering Butchers in White Lund; vegetables are from George Speight in Queen Street, Lancaster; Eggs are from Warwick Eggs in Heysham; Milk is from Woodbine Dairies in Roose, near Barrow-in-Furness. Operations Manager Phil Tarney said it made a real difference in the quality of the meat clients were getting.

David hopes to continue the programme after the DEFRA funding (which had to be used by early August) with members buying into the scheme. It is good to see that food club members and food bank clients are getting a reliable source of basic foods. It is good to see a programme based on cooperation between many food clubs. But it does make for a very crowded and busy warehouse.