At the end of an extremely challenging year, it feels more important than ever to offer some kindness to those in need this winter. We at the EICC have decided to support Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts – an Edinburgh-based volunteer movement which has worked tirelessly to address food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst simultaneously reducing food waste and nourishing the hospitality industry.
With Christmas just around the corner, the EICC is proud to launch the Toiletries, Tins and Time initiative, calling on colleagues, friends and industry professionals to join the fight against hunger in Edinburgh. We are collecting essential items such as food ingredients and toiletries, as well as donating our time as volunteers – all in support of the superb and vital work of Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts.
Set up by a group of volunteers in March 2020, Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts turns food donations into breakfasts, lunches, dinners and treats for people in the community experiencing food poverty. Currently operating out of Leith Theatre, volunteers package the meals into 'day packs' and send them out for delivery across Edinburgh, by a fleet of volunteers on bike and by car. Each and every meal is provided free of charge and served without judgement, with the goal of ensuring nobody goes hungry.
Lewis MacLachlan, Empty Kitchens’ Founding Director, established the charity after observing the challenges brought about and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The disruption of the pandemic was leaving even more people food insecure,” explains Lewis. “Meanwhile the hospitality industry was in crisis, and then there was the almost paradoxical effect of massive food waste. Kitchens lying empty, thousands of chefs left with nothing to do, mountains of food waste. Then I saw an opportunity to tie all those problems together and find a common solution.”
“We’ve got a particularly high attrition rate amongst our young chef volunteers – because many of them end up moving quickly into paid roles”
- Lewis MacLachlan, Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts
The value for the volunteers at Empty Kitchens is immense. Many of their chefs have lost work due to the pandemic, or been placed on furlough. Some are continuing to work 40-50 hours per week in their usual jobs, and still offering their free time to volunteers for the charity. “We’ve also helped a couple of chefs retrain,” says Lewis, citing one individual who has transitioned from the kitchen into an administrative role. “She’s spent the last four months working in the admin team alongside highly-experienced people, gaining skills, real-world experience and references. We’ve also brought young chefs into the kitchen, giving them the opportunity to train under brilliant head chefs. We’ve got a particularly high attrition rate amongst our young chef volunteers – because many of them end up moving quickly into paid roles.”
A growing problem
Since their foundation in March, Empty Kitchens’ operation has grown rapidly. Their team of over 300 volunteers now feeds just under 1000 people a day, seven days a week. The situation is growing more and more dire, with demand for food doubling around every two weeks.
“As a team, we’re really adaptable,” says Lewis. “We’ve managed to meet increasing demand within the same premises, and with more or less the same amount of money. But being a young organisation, it can be challenging to find funding, and one of the biggest problems we’re facing at the moment is securing more permanent premises from which to operate.”
As part of the Toiletries, Tins and Time initiative, the EICC has supplied Empty Kitchens with a large amount of stock from our kitchens. We have also reached out to other areas of the hospitality industry to encourage them to do the same.
“Supporting social impact initiatives across our community is something we’re really passionate about, and we believe we have a responsibility to give back whenever we can”
- Marshall Dallas, EICC
Support from a large organisation such as the EICC helps Empty Kitchens to establish themselves in the community and spread the word about the vital work they do. Lewis explains, “It’s about building the local discourse that we exist, that we’re keen to work with other organisations, and that we’re looking to support the hospitality industry as well as combat food poverty. It’s good just to feel like we’re not on our own.
“The EICC is offering open and honest help, not wanting to step on any toes but just to assist in whatever way they can. This kind of support allows us to keep operating and helps to raise our profile so we can secure more funding in the future. We also hope it will set an example to other organisations who might want to get involved in helping the community, but aren’t sure how to go about it.”
“The collective efforts will assist our most vulnerable and improve their wellbeing and is significantly appreciated by recipients, as well as their wider family and friends”
-Lord Provost Frank Ross
Marshall Dallas, EICC CEO, said: “Supporting social impact initiatives across our community is something we’re really passionate about, and we believe we have a responsibility to give back whenever we can. Homelessness and food poverty initiatives are two areas we have strongly supported over the last few years. COVID-19 has exacerbated so many societal issues and we’re proud to be working with Lewis and the Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts team, especially at this time of year which can be even more difficult for so many.”
Lord Provost Frank Ross said: “This is a fantastic initiative and my thanks to all the staff at the EICC for supporting this. It was my pleasure to visit Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts last month where I met the team of volunteers and saw the preparation and distribution of over 750 whole day meal packs to those facing food security challenges across our city. Their work and dedication is highly valued and this contribution from the EICC of toiletries, tins and the time of their staff is invaluable. I’m sure their collective efforts will assist our most vulnerable and improve their wellbeing and is significantly appreciated by recipients, as well as their wider family and friends.”