A day with Cloverdale Community Kitchen

To mark International Volunteer Day in December 2020, FoodMesh pledged 150 volunteer hours to food security organizations in our communities. This series goes behind the scenes of the teams’ experience at those organizations

On a beautiful January day, I was lucky enough to volunteer at one of our charity partners – Cloverdale Community Kitchen – to learn more about their important work to get food to people in our communities.

Cloverdale Community Kitchen, which is located right by the town of Cloverdale in Surrey, has been a FoodMesh partner since May 2020.

They have various initiatives, including a hot meal program (which was recently expanded to offer both take-out and mobile meals), a food hamper program and other various food and non-food related programs.

Since I started working at FoodMesh as a Store Launch Coordinator in May 2020, I have been in touch with Cloverdale Community Kitchen on numerous occasions, either to coordinate a new store launch or to support their food donation operations.

This volunteering was a great way to finally see how their organization works and where the food that they get through our programs goes.

My day started off in the warehouse. It was Monday – the day of their evening food hamper program. My main task was to prepare carts of both food and non-food items for the hamper program. I started packing toiletry items, canned soups and bread, as well as dog food, which needed to be portioned and labelled properly.

Before noon, a truck arrived with food donations. Cloverdale Community Kitchen collects donations from four stores nearby, through FoodMesh’s Retail Food Recovery program. There was a team of volunteers ready to weigh and record the donation swiftly.

Fresh produce went straight into the kitchen for sorting and portioning for the hampers. There was a team (known as the Gleaners) who were solely responsible for this work to go through the large volume of produce.

I received several boxes of bread, looking delicious and enticing. I prepared a canned soup and dinner roll cart and another cart of baked goods, including loaves of bread and also individually packed baked goods.

Back at the warehouse in the late afternoon, we started to prepare for the food hamper program.

The carts were laid out in the large hall with a long line of tables for the clients, who were due to arrive at 6 pm, to pack their bags and move through the line.
Many volunteers started to gather in the hall. They were very friendly and helpful. They taught me how to pack food, how to communicate with the clients and how to give it out.

Many of the volunteers told me that they had been involved in the program for a long time and they enjoyed coming to the warehouse, seeing and getting to know their clients and helping them.

About 15 volunteers were assigned to 1-2 carts, and the door opened.
There was already a lineup of people waiting to receive their food, and that lineup continued for about 1.5 hours.

I was in charge of the dairy cart with another lady. She was very friendly and quick in explaining to their clients what we had available for them that day, asking for their dietary needs and preferences, confirming the number of people they were collecting for, etc. Sometimes clients were collecting food for one or two people, other times it was for a family of 7 or more. We allocated the portions accordingly while making sure that the people who come toward the end of the line would still have enough food to collect.

“Seeing their faces, hearing their stories and seeing them excited, happy and grateful for the donations affirmed the purpose of our food recovery work and gave me a greater appreciation for being part of it.”

Aiko Uda, Store Launch Coordinator, FoodMesh

One of the things I enjoyed most during this experience was the conversations I had with the Community Kitchen’s clients. Although I see where my daily tasks back at FoodMesh fit in the flow of food moving from supermarkets to charitable organizations, I have no contact with those who are actually receiving the food. Seeing their faces, hearing their stories and seeing them excited, happy and grateful for the donations affirmed the purpose of our food recovery work and gave me a greater appreciation for being part of it.

Another aspect I was very happy to see was how all the products were handled with so much care and respect by the staff members and volunteers at the Cloverdale Community Kitchen.

I would like to thank our retail partners and their staff for their daily effort of sorting out all their surplus food, to donate to organizations like the Cloverdale Community Kitchen. They are the first step of saving those items.

I also have so much appreciation for all of the charities we work with, who work tirelessly to sort the food and distribute it.

In particular, I would like to thank everybody at the Cloverdale Community Kitchen for taking the time to show me your facility and let me get involved in your daily operations. It was a wonderful experience and was incredible to get to know you. Thank you for your continued participation in our program – we could not do what we do without all of your hard work to get the food to the people in our communities who need it most.

Written by Aiko Uda, Store Launch Coordinator, FoodMesh