In response to the COVID-19 crisis, The Long Table, supported by the Diocese of Gloucester, developed a project to help ensure everyone in the county had access to food regardless of background or ability to pay.
Named the “Feeding the 5000” project, the initiative achieved its goal in the first 3 weeks, and has gone on to deliver over 31,000 meals throughout Gloucestershire to date.
The Long Table is part of the Grace Network, a Christian social enterprise based in Brimscombe. They bring people together through food and run a bakery, kitchen, shop and a dining space where they provide home-cooked nutritious meals.
The Long Table adapted extremely quickly to the pandemic, moving from hosted pay-as-you-feel meals, to cooking and delivering ready meals within the first week of lockdown in the UK.
Being part of the Diocese of Gloucester , we (Bishop Rachel and the Gloucester Diocesan Board of Finance) joined forces so together we were able to provide this service across the diocese.
We commissioned local, not-for-profit kitchens to cook meals for an agreed price per unit paid for by Feeding the 5,000. Menus, dietary constraints, labelling and branding were all provided by The Long Table.
Bishop Rachel and her team lead on raising funds for the project, helped build the network and looked after the finances of the project.
The “Hero” kitchens set up across the county included: The Sober Parrot in Cheltenham, The Clean Plate, Roots Cafe and Wiggly Worm in Gloucester as well as The Royal Agriculture College and Thomas Franks in The Cotswolds. During the peak of the pandemic, the network of kitchens were producing over 5000 meals a week.
In total, 81% of the meals were delivered for free to people who would’ve otherwise struggled to feed themselves and their families, as well as to NHS staff. That equated to roughly £128k (RRP) of free meals.
Over 17% (5,448) of the 31,000 meals were given to NHS professionals who were working gruelling hours to save lives. Feeding the 5,000 stocked fridges and freezers in hospitals throughout the county, providing some small relief to tired NHS workers. All of the fridges and freezers were either loaned or given to The Long Table (by the community) to help supply this service to hospitals.
This project only worked because of the amount of volunteers that stepped up to the plate and offered their time for free. Volunteers took on all sorts of roles, from cooking to driving delivery vans, and leaflet dropping to manning phone lines. It was a real community effort. Local businesses also supported the Long Table effort by donating food, money, staff and equipment. Giffords Circus even lent Long Table their huge freezer van for transporting the meals.
Bishop Rachel said: “I am really proud of what Feeding the 5,000 achieved and in such a short space of time. We knew with the thousands of people having to self-isolate and the huge financial strain placed on families and foodbanks, that providing free, healthy food delivered to people’s doors would be a vital service.
“People, organisations and worshipping communities quickly came together, all with the same goal to help feed those who couldn’t access or afford food and to make a positive difference, and I believe we achieved that. But what we involved people in was something so much more than just delicious and nutritious food. We cooked with love, this was food from our home delivered by a real person who cared. Every person mattered.
“My immense thanks go to everyone at The Long Table, all our partner kitchens and worshipping communities who came together to make this happen.”
The Long Table co-founder, Tom Herbert, said:
“Lockdown has challenged us to reimagine what we do. So many great people have stepped forward, joining us and the other hero kitchens and together we’ve delivered over 31,000 meals across the county. Despite people being shielded and distancing, the connections made over the phone and on the doorstep have shone brighter than ever.
“I’ve known in my bones the joy and transformative power of gathering people around food. When it’s done well; life is better, communities are stronger, less people are lonely, less food is wasted – I could go on.
“I’m so grateful for what’s happened and to everyone that participated and I’m bursting with hope for what’s next at The Long Table. When our work is done, everyone will have access to great food and people to eat with.”
Feeding the 5000 has really demonstrated the principle of feeding change one bite at a time, rather than simply feeding people. The legacy will be a group of activists strategically planning how to bring food security to all residents of Gloucestershire.
Furthermore, it can be replicated again if a second spike occurs.
The learning curve was steep, but the driving force throughout was to serve the community. This was done by bringing people together through food, combating loneliness and ensuring nobody went hungry. All during what could be the most difficult and widespread crisis many of us will ever face.
Even though Feeding the 5000 has come to an end, the question of how to build back better now begins.