It’s difficult to think of a more fitting institution to kick off our Pillars of the Community campaign. We had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Eat or Heat’s co-founder, Gary Nash, to find out a little bit more about this outstanding local service. For those who are unfamiliar with the charity, Eat or Heat is a food bank based in Waltham Forest, providing hundreds of thousands of meals each year to community members experiencing financial hardships and food poverty.
Gary is one of those rare people in life that emanates such warmth, sincerity and humility that it feels like a reassuring hug, even when transmitted through a laptop screen during our Zoom call. He is passionate and deeply knowledgeable about the issues facing his service users in the local community; his manor. Gary grew up in poverty in Stratford and has lived here his whole life; when we asked him what East London meant to him he answered: ‘It’s home...the place I love’.
He takes us through the history of Eat or Heat, beginning back in November 2011 as an informal service within Waltham Forest Children’s Centres, handing out cans of food. Gary worked in the Children Centres at the time and regularly witnessed children going hungry. Families were increasingly reporting that ‘we can pay the bills but we can’t feed the family at the same time’.
Soon Eat or Heat became a formal, independent enterprise, launching their fundraising efforts with a drag show, along with other events to kickstart the charity. They are now well known locally and have regular donors, which allow the charity to ‘tick over’ and continue to provide their essential services. Currently, the biggest fundraising event for Eat or Heat is the annual Ravenswood for Eat or Heat festival, which Pillars Brewery is honoured to participate in as a venue.
There are currently three Eat or Heat foodbank sites in Walthamstow, Chingford and Leytonstone. Sadly the need for foodbank services hasn’t waned since the charity's conception and has in fact increased phenomenally in recent years. Statistics from 16th March to 8th August 2020 show a 93% rise in referrals from 2019, bearing in mind that 2019 had already seen a 92% increase in referrals from 2018. Eat or Heat provided around 85,000 meals in this 5 month period alone.
It blew our minds to learn the staggering amount of logistics that go into running a food bank. The dedicated volunteers tackle a whole host of tasks, from packing bags, stacking shelves, and handing out packs, to picking up food from suppliers. However, there is also a massive amount that goes on behind the scenes, such as admin, processing referrals, social media, and the website, most of which is managed by Gary himself.
All of the staff at Eat or Heat are unpaid; Gary and around 50 team members, run the entire operation on a voluntary basis. All money donated to the organisation is used to buy food (mainly on food that runs out quickly like canned veg and meat) to supplement the food donations they receive. The volunteers themselves are an eclectic mix of people from all stratas of society, and Gary describes them as the backbone of the charity. Eat or Heat strives to make all volunteering experiences interesting and fun, so tasks like packing food become more of a social event.
What more can we say? We could honestly harp on all day about how tremendous this organisation is. The selfless people at Eat or Heat are the definition of Pillars of the Community, and their important work delivers vital support to the residents of Waltham Forest.
If you need to access Eat or Heat’s services you will require a referral from a recognised agency. You can find out more about this on the referrals tab on the eat or Heat website.
If you would like to support Eat or Heat then the best way is through the donation of food or money- whichever suits you best. The Eat or Heat website is regularly updated to show which food stocks are running low and where to drop them off, along with an option to make an online monetary contribution.
To find out more about Eat or Heat, their services, and how to donate, please visit eatorheat.org