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This article was published in the Herald on December 25th 2022.

While others across Scotland were busy opening presents and spending quality time with their families on Christmas Day, a team of dedicated volunteers were hard at work preparing hundreds of meals for people across Edinburgh for the week ahead.

The volunteers work alongside staff at Empty Kitchens Full Hearts (EKFH), a West Granton-based charity that rescues surplus food and turns it into healthy meals for those in need.

Since being set up by out-of-work chefs in April 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity has provided over 1,600,000 meals to people across the capital, free of charge and without judgement.

At present, EKFH supports around 650 service users at 300 addresses in Edinburgh, delivering ‘day packs’ – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks – direct to the doors of those who need them, while also serving hot meals to walk-in guests at its weekly on-site hot food service.

Speaking about the work the charity does, Emily Gifford, Fundraising Manager at EKFH, told The Herald: “The core of what we do is turn food that otherwise would be wasted into meals and that is made into what we call ‘day packs’ which is soup and a roll and main meals and some snacks. What that contains just depends on what the donations are on a given day or week, and the chefs turn it into meals and then that is delivered to peoples homes by our drivers and cyclists.

“We are also working with some local community organisations as well as hubs so people have the option to pick their meals up from somewhere in their local area rather than have home delivery.”

In offering support to people in the capital who are facing a variety of different challenges, EKFH also tries to help ‘sign-post’ their users in the direction of other services they may be able to take advantage of.

Ms Gifford added: “Our service users are living in all sorts of different circumstances. So for some people it might be short or long-term illnesses that mean that they are not able to get out to buy food or they are not able to cook it, for some people it may be lack of access to facilities, and for some people it may be not being able to afford food or a combination of all sorts of different things.

“It’s very often the case that if somebody requires support with food for whatever reason that is often only one thing that might be a challenge for them. What we are trying to do now is work more closely with our service users to understand what all of their needs are and help sign-post them towards other services while we are meeting the need for food.”

EKFH began operating in Edinburgh’s Bridgend Farmhouse community hub before moving to The Old Dr Bell’s Baths venue in Leith. They arrived at their current home in Granton in December last year.

As a volunteer-led organisation, Ms Gifford noted that EKFH, in having only a “small paid team”, relies on the goodwill of those volunteers to make things tick – many of whom sign up to help over the festive period.

She said: “We are very much a volunteer-led organisation. We have a small paid team but we rely on the goodwill of our amazing volunteers, lots of whom have been with us from the beginning.

“We do also see a bit of an extra influx of volunteers at this time of year, when some people maybe have a holiday or they are looking to do something around Christmas in particular. And we have our kind of regular volunteers who might help several times a week or a few times a month or year. It really varies.”

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, Ms Gifford said it was a normal “operational day” for the charity as they prepared meals for the week ahead.

She added: “We did an extra delivery day for all our users on Saturday so they had a Christmas meal on Christmas Day. For us, Christmas Day, because it’s a Sunday, is an operational day, which we spend cooking and packing.

“The key thing is that things don’t stop for Christmas for us. People need support year round and that’s what we are here for.”

This article was published in the Edinburgh Evening News on 16th September 2022. Photograph: Scott Barron photography.

An Edinburgh food bank has spoken out about the ‘woeful’ situation people are in due to the cost of living crisis – and reacted to the new Prime Minister’s solution to soaring energy bills.

Liz Truss announced that, from October 1, the price cap for energy bills will be set at £2,500 for two years, saving a typical household approximately £1000 a year.

Although this will mean the cost of energy bills is roughly £1,200 more a year for average households compared to six months ago – and twice as much as last winter – she said her strategy will “give people reassurance ahead of this winter that energy bills are going to be affordable.”

On September 8, the new Prime Minister said that government was “taking action to help people on the lowest incomes through Universal Credit” and “supplying £400 through the Energy Bills Support Scheme”.

But her strategy has seen a backlash from third sector organisations that provide emergency food in Edinburgh and throughout the UK who say current social security payments are insufficient, and more must be done to support lower income households.

Michael Innes, head of operations at Granton-based food bank, Empty Kitchens Full Hearts, said the charity was “seeing a lot of need out there” and that there has been a “steady increase” in service users as energy bills have increased.

Speaking to the Evening News, Mr Innes said an average day will see the Granton charity deliver 1,200 meals a day – up from approximately 700 meals a day in April. Mr Innes said “woeful” Universal Credit payments are not adequately supporting the poorest households.

He said: “Some people are about minus £50 after essential bills, so as those bills get bigger then obviously they have even more debt at the end of the month, so people are really really desperate right now.

“I would like to see them trying to live off the money they think households should be able to get by on. I think they would be very very shocked by just how little benefits people are on.”

Ewan Aitken, chief executive of Cyrenians, which supplies food to more than 170 organisations across Scotland, said there has been a noticeable increase in demand since October last year – but now the cost of living crisis has made circumstances for many people “much worse”.

Mr Aitken said: “Demand for our services is growing exponentially and we’re hearing the same from lots of other organisations too. The price cap will help, I’m glad it’s there and it’s welcomed but much more needs to happen because the drivers that affect things like inflation are having an impact way beyond energy prices.

“Now we are seeing a 30 per cent increase in the number of people asking for emergency food who are in work.”

Mr Aitken said the UK government “understands there is a problem but they have no idea how big the problem is or how difficult it is when you are in poverty to make payments”.

He said: “Universal Credit has been shown at the present rate to be £57 below what a family needs to survive, so every month they’re in a negative because of the price of food, travel and rent.”

Mr Aitken added: “They just haven’t got an understanding of when you have very little, a small amount of increase is a huge impact and that’s the difficulty. They need to be getting more money into the pockets of the people who are poorest."

“Let’s restore the £20 universal credit. That sounds like a small amount but actually we know that it made a massive difference because we could see the effect when it dropped off last October. That’s when emergency food use went up.”

He added: “We can’t fix this problem. But we can make sure that people can get quick access to emergency food that we provide and make sure they have clear access to the grants that are available for people."

“But in the end it becomes emotionally draining to know that we can’t sort this. We need the bigger, bolder stronger decision to come front the centre.”

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, has urged the UK government to double additional support that was offered last May and hopes that the emergency budget expected later this month is used to prevent more people falling into destitution.

Ms Revie said that, although the government’s proposals “might help prevent some people from being driven to food banks”, she believes capping energy prices “is not enough.”

Reacting to the current welfare payments she said: “We know two in five people claiming Universal Credit are skipping meals right now because they can’t afford food – the current cost of living is simply unaffordable and even with a price cap many people will have to go without the essentials.

“From our latest research, we know that almost 70% of people who had received a cost of living payment had already needed to spend all of it within a month, and most of it was spent buying food.”

The Edinburgh-based charity, Empty Kitchens Full Hearts, has signed a sponsorship deal with the Club that will run from the beginning of the 2022/23 campaign.

The partnership will see the Empty Kitchens Full Hearts logo feature on the lower back of the new Women’s Team home and away shirts for the start of the 2022/23 season.

As well as being a shirt sponsor, supporters will see EKFH’s logo and branding across social media channels and the charity will have access to player content.

Anneka Torrance, Commercial Sales and Partnerships Executive at Hibernian FC, commented:

“It is a pleasure for Hibernian FC to be teaming up with Empty Kitchens Full Hearts, they represent a hugely important cause in currently testing times. I would encourage anyone to get involved and learn more about what EKFH are doing in their community. We look forward to working closely with this fantastic charity throughout the season and thank them for their involvement with our Women’s Team.”

Since April 2020, Empty Kitchens Full Hearts has been turning surplus and donated food into nutritious meals that are home-delivered to those in need across Edinburgh. Since then, more than 1.5 million meals have been cooked, packed and delivered by an amazing community of volunteers.

Emily Gifford, Fundraising Manager at EKFH, added:

“Empty Kitchens Full Hearts is delighted to be partnering with Hibernian FC Women this season, thanks to a generous benefactor. At such an exciting time for the Club, and women’s football as a whole, we can’t wait to support our local Edinburgh team while they help us to raise awareness of our work, and the scale of food poverty hitting communities across Edinburgh and beyond.”

As the cost of living crisis continues to disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in our local community, the need for Empty Kitchens Full Hearts service is unfortunately only going to continue to rise. For just £1.50 per day EKFH can prepare, pack and deliver lunch, dinner and snacks for one person, and at present more than 6,000 meals are being delivered every week.

People in need of EKFH’s service are often facing multiple, compounding vulnerabilities, including poverty, mental and physical health challenges, unemployment, and social isolation. Of service users taken on since the beginning of June this year, more than 25% are children.

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