No Room at the Inn

Mary McGrane is one of our amazing volunteers ensuring that the Food Rescue Project keeps on delivering surplus food from stores to inner city charities in Dublin. Mary has written a lovely blog post on her experience of volunteering with FoodCloud.

Tonight, I dropped off 6 six crates of perfectly good food worth over €230 to a Women’s Refuge in Dublin, which would have otherwise gone to waste as it has reached its “best before” date. I’ve been volunteering with FoodCloud since November 2014, redistributing surplus food from Tesco supermarkets to local charities, however something about tonight was different. Whilst I drove around the city earlier this evening, between two stores and then to the refuge, a few things struck me about the world we live in. Of course, I’ve had these thoughts many times before, but I think it was the fact that I was volunteering on my own tonight that they really resonated. Also, with the coincidental timing of International Women’s Day, I couldn’t ignore the urge to write about them – so much so that this is my first ever LinkedIn post, so please bear with me!

FoodCloud is an incredibly innovative social enterprise which is on a mission to reduce poverty and food wastage across Ireland. The organisation was co-founded by two young Irish female entrepreneurs Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward. To date, FoodCloud has facilitated 9,100 food donations, that’s the equivalent of 715,000 meals! The way FoodCloud works is really simple yet effective and has the potential to upscale dramatically, and even to be rolled out internationally. Every evening, participating stores, including Tesco who have pledged their support nationwide to the organisation, upload details of their surplus food onto an app. The participating charities receive a text about the food donation and then they collect it. Some charities cook and serve the food on location or freeze it for a later stage, other charities redistribute it to local families on the same night. However, the co-founders soon realised that many inner city charities do not have sufficient resources to pick up food donations from some of the suburban Tesco stores, which for the most part are larger and therefore have more excess food. This is how they came up with the food redistribution project, which I volunteer with on a weekly basis, along with about 30 other enthusiastic volunteers from all walks of life. For this project, ESB have sponsored an electric car that is used to drive around Dublin city each night. This ties in with the whole environmentally friendly ethos of FoodCloud and is testament to the co-founders’ vision of a circular economy, which is something I really admire. In fact, I’m certainly not the first person to admire both Aoibheann and Iseult. Over the last few months, they have been featured in “future leaders” lists and noted as “ones to watch” and they are fast becoming household names as speakers at start-up and technology conferences amongst others. Most notably, at the end of 2014, FoodCloud won two significant awards, Ben & Jerry’s Join Our Core and Social Enterprise Ireland’s Impact award. I could continue to write so much more about the wonderful work these young women are doing and the infinite potential that FoodCloud has to grow and it’s impact on our environment and society, however I suggest you Google them! I want to get on to my main point!

I’ve always been aware of the countless inspiring women around me and I’ve always had a strong passion to fight for gender equality. Before I left my house earlier this evening to volunteer with FoodCloud, I posted a picture of my mum and sister on Instagram in honour of International Women’s Day. At that stage, I had no idea of the roller coaster of emotions that were about to ensue. I set off on my way, thinking to myself “gosh aren’t I great giving up my time on a Sunday and driving my own car, because there were no other volunteers this evening and I can’t drive the e-car until I’m 25″. Very quickly, I got off my high-horse and realised “yes, this is the least I can do after having a nice stress-free weekend”. I picked up a total of six crates of food from two stores, each packed with an array of baked goods, meat and vegetables. It’s at this stage each night that I volunteer when I think of what a shame it would be if this food had in fact gone to waste. Then the enormity begins to sinks of how this is just from two shops, so just think of all the food thrown away by all the shops in all of Ireland, and then across the whole world… That’s usually when my brain starts to fry and I need to bring myself back to reality, because let’s face it, we can’t solve everything overnight! Then after arriving at the women’s refuge, I carried the crates from my car in to the kind lady who stood nervously at the door, she apologised that she couldn’t come out to help. I had never expected her to give me a hand, she didn’t need to say sorry at all, but it’s something us women have ingrained in us, to apologise profusely for anything and everything (*see Pantene’s #sorrynotsorry campaign which I just watched this morning). However, it was what she said next that made my stomach sink and I know it’s something that will stick with me – “we’ve a full house tonight, there’s no room at the inn, Mary”.

On International Women’s Day 2015, it’s a crying shame that women’s refuges are full to capacity in one of the world’s most dynamic and educated cities. To think of all the women and children seeking refuge from domestic violence, not just tonight or not just in Dublin, but globally every single night after night. I am so grateful for everything in my life, including being fortunate enough to volunteer with FoodCloud and donate food to some of those women this evening. But it’s not enough, the issue of gender equality is so big and it’s so important that everyone, males included, need to play a part in tackling and solving it. As with food wastage, I firmly believe in one small step at a time towards big change, however the power of numbers is crucial to eradicating gender inequality, whether in relation to access to education, equal pay or domestic violence.

Despite how innovative FoodCloud is and inspiring the women who co-founded it are, I dream of a day where there is no necessity for this type of project as there would be no excess food and even better, there would be no families living in poverty who depend on local charities for their meals. This may seem like a ludicrous dream, but we may as well dream big! And while we’re at it, let’s aim for a day where females are treated as equals and there is no requirement for women’s shelters. I for one, never want to hear the phrase “there’s no room at the inn” – not in a classroom or boardroom, and certainly not in a women’s refuge – ever again… unless I’m watching a school nativity play!

Leave a Reply