Welcome to the first of our FoodCloud HumanKind series, a series of interviews with the incredible charities, food businesses, volunteers, staff and supporters of FoodCloud.
For our first piece, FoodCloud’s Elsa Roddy met with Anne, Liz and Rita from The Mahon Family Resource Centre to find out about how they find working with FoodCloud, and the processes and solutions they developed that allows them to maximise the impact of the food they receive.
Nestled in the heart of the Mahon community sits the vibrant Mahon Family Resource Centre. The centre serves as a support system to the community, offering childcare services, art therapy, parent and toddler groups, yoga, a creche as well as a summer school during the summer months. The bright and airy building is decorated from the front archway into the building’s centre with handmade ceramic tiles, individually made by locals, highlighting the centre’s place at the core of the community.
Established in 1986 the centre has called its current space home, for the last 13 years.
I sat down with Anne the centre’s manager, Liz the coordinator of the adult classes and Rita the creative chef behind their food service, to chat about what FoodCloud has meant for the centre over the last few years.
Sitting in their spacious bright kitchen Liz tells me how they still get excited when the FoodCloud van arrives each Tuesday to deliver their order.
“We have something of an operation line going when the food comes in, so it’s not sitting around for any length of time. We’ll divide the whole lot up by putting shorter dated items in the fridge freezer upstairs to be used immediately and the longer dated items get put into the chest freezer downstairs to be used up once the fridge has been cleared.”
Anne explains that when they first joined the service they initially experienced what she termed ‘teething problems’ around getting the food out to the clients in time before going past the use-by dates. It wasn’t all plain sailing to begin with, but making for a smoother process. By taking that step back to view and understand the process they now manage the food like a well oiled machine.
There is work involved, it is important to stress that, but the pluses of it definitely outweigh the negatives. It’s about managing and planning, getting a process in place and understanding how you use the food. Once you get your process in place – by looking at the types of food and volumes, we were able to react much quicker to food coming in. And then it was just just about maintaining it . The variety of food is something we wouldn’t have had before so seeing such a large selection of different kinds of food from fresh veg to yogurts is still something we get very excited about.”
Liz has become central to the process, keeping a watchful eye on stock dates and rotation and guides the wider team in maintaining the system, removing anything that has longer or shorter dates and making sure that all food safety regulations are met.
With her creativity and passion, Rita tirelessly works to invent tasty and nutritious meals for the young children in their care. Like all people feeding young children, individual taste can be something of a challenge but Rita makes sure that the children are not only getting a nutritionally balanced meal but one they’ll happily eat. So she gets creative, blending, grating and pulping vegetables and concealing them within tasty sauces, dumplings, meatballs and other delicious foods that young children enjoy eating. The children get a tasty meal that is nutritious and unless a wayward vegetable is spotted, the children love seeing her arrive, her trolly stacked with today’s delicious offering.
Rita notes how Mahon FRC receives a variety of food weekly through their FoodCloud partnership with our Cork Hub. The creche is prioritised as the main outlet for the food. The meat, fresh fruit, veg and dairy are all transformed by Rita into healthy and nutritious hot meals for the younger clients. When things arrive in larger quantities from time to time, the classes serve as the perfect avenue to reduce any possible food waste and get this perfectly good food to people who will use it. Anything that comes in bulk and needs to be used up is offered to the clients but particularly to the parents of the younger children. Items are left out at the end of class to keep with food safety regulations and clients are advised to help themselves as the items need a good home to save them from becoming waste.
By emphasising the environmental impact of taking the food, Mahon FRC are not only able to move on wayward items at risk of being thrown out, but it also allows them to offer further support to their clients, some of whom may silently be struggling. Anne mentions that the message of saving food because of the environmental damage of food waste can be a more positive and more acceptable message than taking food away because it’s needed. She and the team have recognised this, and it has tapped them into the most direct route to getting food to people who may need it, but may never ask for it.
Anne also advised me that through working with FoodCloud and using their process they have been able to save up to €5,000 annually on their food bill. The savings are then fed back into other parts of the service, allowing them to offer more support to their clients. In the spirit of passing it forward, Anne tells me that she hopes to open the kitchens up at some stage to allow those in Direct Provision locally to use the facilities, showcasing the kindness and level of thought that is a hallmark of the centre. Between them they have worked out a system that truly makes the world a kinder place one meal at a time.