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We've cooked over 1,250,000 meals for people in need since the start of the pandemic. But now, food insecurity will only worsen as some of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable people are set to lose out on £20 per week, beginning on Friday 1st October.

It is estimated that nearly 20% of the Scottish population was living in poverty before the pandemic began, with 24% of children affected.

Yet again, at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, we find ourselves at a worrying crossroads with uncertainty about how things are going to pan out over the next few weeks and months.

We are now, as a country, becoming used to living with COVID-19 to varying degrees and we’re thrilled that a number of our service users have been able to stop relying on Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts for food. But we’re still providing over 1,400 meals every day and the financial implications of the reduction in Universal Credit, coupled with rising utility bills, rising food prices and increased unavailability of food will be reflected in the demand for services like ours that support people who are in need of safe access to food.

In May 2021, when businesses opened up again, we saw over half of our volunteer workforce return to work, meaning a dramatic drop in availability of people to cook, package and deliver meals. In June this year, we reached the one million meals served mark, but the lack of volunteers unfortunately meant that no new service users could be added to our books.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the landscape changed dramatically overnight. People that had been previously settled in prosperous careers suddenly found themselves unable to provide for themselves and their families as the job cuts kicked in. We also found that a large number of people had fallen through the cracks of the traditional support mechanisms for one reason or another.

As we don’t means-test our service users, we became a lifeline for these people and continue to be. The upcoming winter looks like it’s going to be another hard period for those that are living in food insecurity or on the verge of doing so. As far as we can see, the cracks are only going to deepen for the foreseeable future.

We hope to be able to begin adding new service users to our delivery routes once again, however, a lack of volunteers and funds means a very limited workforce to fulfil all the roles needed to provide additional meals. If you can help out, please fill in the form on the volunteer page of our website or email us at

Every single one of our volunteers is a superhero as far as we’re concerned. So when 17-year-old Melissa Reidie, from Dalkeith, won a Saltire Summit Award after donating her time to the organisation for over a year, we were over the moon, and couldn’t be more proud.

The Saltire Awards are dedicated to celebrating youth volunteering in Scotland. The ‘Summit’ award is for when a young person has shown an outstanding contribution to volunteering - which is certainly true of Melissa, who has spent hundreds of hours with Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.

Melissa, who started volunteering with Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts in June 2020 when she was just 16 years old, chatted to us about why she chose to donate her spare time with our organisation:

I originally heard about Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts because my Dad was one of the chefs in the kitchen. He suggested that I could come along to help, which I did - originally in the kitchen with him, then moving onto the packing floor to package up the hundreds of meals delivered each day. I really enjoyed that first shift and continued to come along every time my Dad was in the kitchens. By the time we reached August, my Dad went back to his job as a Head Chef at the school he works at, and I started in S6. Despite going back to school and starting my final year, I still dedicated a lot of time to volunteering at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.

"In January 2021, I spent more than 70 hours volunteering, and even gave up a few hours on Christmas Day 2020 to make sure people across Edinburgh had access to food. During my last year of high school, I was asked to be a Mental Health Ambassador. Part of that role was to create information boards to display around my school, so I would take some of the posters and put them round Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts for volunteers and clients to see too, as I knew that mental wellbeing was a priority for the organisation.

There are loads of different reasons people choose to volunteer. When COVID-19 hit,

however, there became one overwhelming reason to donate your time to a charitable organisation: to feel like you were making a difference. When lockdown first happened in March 2020, and so many people were put on furlough, and a lot of them didn’t know what to do with themselves.

Once Melissa started volunteering, she instantly felt part of our community, and as well as knowing she was making such a difference to people’s lives, she genuinely enjoyed it:

I loved knowing that I was helping such an amazing cause and getting to support so many people who were really struggling. I also loved meeting all the other incredible volunteers, and even though at just 16 and the youngest person there, I just seemed to get along with everyone very well. After a while, I became the packing hall ‘DJ’ and started making loads of playlists and being in charge of the tunes. It really is such a great group of people and everyone’s there because they’re genuinely passionate about the cause.

It’s been proven that volunteering makes people happier and gives them more confidence. And one really great statistic is that people who volunteer are 27% more likely to be offered a job than those who don’t. Melissa feels that being able to show that she has over a year’s worth of volunteering experience will help her in the future as she goes on to college and employment:

I believe the benefits of my volunteering experiences will support me as I begin my transition to college in September. It will also help me in my new part-time job I’ve recently secured. I would absolutely encourage other people to sign up to volunteer, whether that is a one-off shift, or regular shifts like me. It’s helped my confidence and being able to talk to such a variety of people in a work environment.

Melissa isn’t the only school pupil giving up their time to volunteer at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts - 17 year old Sean Burrell has been a packing volunteer since January 2021, and more recently he was joined by 4 of his fellow Edinburgh Royal High School pupils who all decided to sacrifice some of their summer holidays to donate time to help us feed the 1,100 people we provide food for each day.

If you can cook, prepare or package food, deliver using a bicycle or car, clean or provide admin support, the team at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts would love to hear from you. Please visit our website to sign up to join the community of volunteers.

In June 2021, we reached a milestone we hoped we would never have to reach: delivering one million meals to those who need it.

Going through a tonne of pasta and over a tonne of onions each month we feed around 1,100 people every day by delivering day packs of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Over 100 hot meals are also served every day from our home within the iconic Leith Theatre, where we've been situated since July 2020. This service requires around 3,500 volunteer hours each week in delivery riders and drivers, chefs, KPs, packers and hot food servers. And, as lockdown eases and many volunteers return to work, we're calling for volunteers to step forward and join the team.

Hatty, one of our volunteers said: "I started volunteering at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts during the first lockdown. Sitting at home day after day, doing the same things, without human interaction, was badly affecting my mental health, so I looked into local volunteering opportunities. Simply feeling useful and knowing that my time was being spent valuably has benefitted my overall wellbeing so much during what's been an incredibly difficult time for everyone, no matter your circumstances. Being able to serve our clients hot food and knowing I may be providing some of the only human interaction they have that day means the world to me and I know what a difference I'm making to their lives. It's genuinely incredibly rewarding work and feels amazing to be part of this community, especially as we mark our one millionth meal."

In April 2020, local chefs out of work due to the Covid-19 pandemic banded together to form Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, a free meal service for those struggling to feed themselves. With many hospitality staff out of work, our project provided a sense of purpose for many who had previously led busy lives, all while tackling food waste by turning surplus food from local businesses into healthy, delicious meals.

Mike, another volunteer said: "The process of feeding hungry people with surplus food by keeping out-of-work chefs like myself occupied, has always seemed like one of those ideas that was so simple yet so genius, it just completely made sense to me. Volunteering at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts personally gave me so much more though, it has brought me enjoyment as an antidote to the anxieties around the Covid-19 situation, a sense of structure in a world seemingly out of control and it has also provided me the opportunity to create social connections in a world of enforced isolation."

Thousands of people around the UK are struggling to put food on the table. Even before COVID, 9% of Scots experienced food insecurity, and over 8 million people in the UK lacked safe and secure access to food. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. In 2020, the need for food banks and similar services doubled compared to the previous year. Our service is more needed than ever, going from providing 7,500 meals per week in June last year to 23,000 per week now. Demand for the service has more than trebled. In one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the disparity is stark.

One of our lovely clients sent in this message of gratitude for the volunteers: "I would like to thank you for the meals that have been delivered. Things were extremely hard and these meals really helped me stay in the routine of eating healthy and keeping me motivated. You guys work so hard and I just wanted to say how grateful I am for all the work you all do."

Now, with hospitality and other sectors re-open, we've found ourselves with around 50% of the volunteers we needs to run smoothly and provide food for it's clients. If you can help, please fill in the


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