If you’re from Leeds and active on Facebook, you might have noticed the above image being shared this week, along with a plea which urges friends to contribute to an ad-hoc food donation point in the Hyde Park neighbourhood:
“Dear all my leeds friends, there isn’t a food bank in hyde park and it’s pretty rank seeing the amount of food waste on the side of the streets. We’ve set up a little spot to dump food on the end of our road which is a popular spot for the hyde park homeless. Preferably no food that goes off…. Not to far a walk from anyone. And a good way to give back to the community we have taken from for 3 years!!”
Among a sea of “Top 80 Man v Food Challenges!!” clickbait lists about irresponsible restaurants encouraging patrons to fist globs of Nachos Grande out of a wheelie bin and into their mouth, this kind of attitude is welcome, humbling and very encouraging – the execution is a little misguided though:
You can’t fault the sentiment, and the advice of donating non-perishables is sound and sometimes overlooked – as good as the intentions are though, they’re somewhat misplaced. Leaving a basket of food on the street isn’t a guarantee that it’ll end up with the intended recipient, or anybody at all; the “Free Food” sign kind of explains that the basket wasn’t just left there by an absent-minded Co-Op shopper, but it also looks like Wile E Coyote has set a trap to capture a Roadrunner with a discerning attitude towards Fairtrade produce. This model of distribution is indiscriminate – once the food has been left there it could be taken by anybody – an opportunist student, a plucky rat or fox (Hyde Park has more of them than it does landlords, and they’re almost as unscrupulous), or just get put in the bin; even well-meaning littering is still technically littering.
If you’re in a position where you can spare some food or money for the needy, the best way of doing it is to give it to an organisation that can ensure it gets distributed fairly to those most in need. The person who posted the above plea correctly pointed out that there aren’t any official Food Banks in Hyde Park (a list of the Trussell Trust banks in Leeds can be found here), but there are other places that offer a similar service: St George’s Crypt provides beds and cooked meals for the homeless, and always welcome donations of non-perishable food, sleeping bags & blankets, and toiletries & sanitary products for its service users, as does South Parade Baptist Church (the one opposite Headingley Stadium with the always-hilarious signs outside) and any other churches or mosques that might be near you. Simon on the Streets is based in Hyde Park, just next to Left Bank, and is dedicated to helping those sleeping rough by staging events to raise funding and awareness.
Aside from traditional charity there’s plenty of other altruistic food-types around the city who deserve your support; Inkwell Arts is dedicated to providing a safe space with a focus on positive mental health and has a cafe in Chapel Allerton; Taste in Oakwood recently received attention for a notice in its window offering a free meal to anybody in need; and The Real Junk Food Project is currently operating on such an ethical high-ground that they’re in danger of suffering Social Justice Vertigo.
TRJFP accepts donations of food which would otherwise be destined for the landfill and turn it into a menu that customers can pay what they feel for – if somebody isn’t fortunate enough to be able to pay for the meal then it’s subsidised by those who can. Their Armley Junk-tion cafe served 16,000 people in 2014, and they’ve just taken over the kitchen at Santiago in town, where they knock out their improvised menus in the afternoon and put on a bit of a spread in the night. By the way pubs, can we make “putting on a spread” a thing again please? It can’t be that difficult to find a small-batch to IPA pair with cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick.
If you know of any other Leeds food charity or community-minded restaurants that deserve support and attention, please let me know via email or the contact for so I can help spread the word.