FareShare is 20

Published on 29 June 2021

Photo: FareShare kitchen supervisors Polly Harvey and Arnel Quinoneza in action.

Fifteen million free meals for people in need. Six million kilos of food diverted from landfill. More than 250 tonnes of vegetables grown in urban kitchen gardens. This year FareShare celebrates 20 years in business and the accomplishments of the food charity’s mostly volunteer workforce are many and they are substantial – not least for the people on the receiving end. “Not everyone can afford to put food on the table, certainly not everyone can afford to dine in a restaurant,” says long-time volunteer Sandy Dudakov. “We use surplus produce to make nutritious, delicious meals for men, women and children who need them.” 

Volunteers – 450 kitchen regulars with a waiting list of 600 – chop and stir under professional chef-magicians who work out how to turn a grab-bag of donated ingredients into 50,000 meals a week. “A half-day shift in our Abbotsford kitchen might mean chopping carrot, pumpkin and zucchini for casseroles, lining trays with pastry for individual pies or quiches, or packing meals made by the previous shift into individual vacuum-sealed bags,” says Dudakov. “If lots of mushrooms and cream come in, it could be stroganoff, if we have mangoes and chicken it’ll be a casserole, and last week we did chicken cacciatore on Asian greens – it looked so lovely.”

FareShare meals are distributed to hundreds of frontline charities and community groups who pass on the food to locals in need. They've fed people in the Dandenongs without power in recent storms. They were taken to locked down public housing towers in the winter of 2020. They’re distributed at homeless shelters, women’s refuges and school breakfast programs. 

FareShare has always tried to close the waste loop by turning discarded or excess food into bounty. “From humble beginnings baking a few hundred pies from surplus food each week, FareShare now operates Australia’s largest charity kitchens with our Melbourne base and the Brisbane kitchen we launched in 2018,” says CEO Marcus Godinho. Nutrition is a key aim, not just calories: a kitchen garden program that kicked off in 2015 means reliable sources of fresh veg from plots in Abbotsford, Moorabbin and Clayton South. In 2020, FareShare’s Clayton garden alone produced 55 tonnes of cauliflowers, carrots, capsicums and celery. 

Restaurant chefs have pitched in, too. In 2019, Vue de Monde executive chef Hugh Allen brought his team to Abbotsford to create a special rescued-produce dinner for FareShare supporters. “There’s so much meaning in what FareShare does,” he says. “Restaurants could learn a lot about minimising and repurposing waste and giving back to the community. FareShare leads by example.” Iain Ling owns the Lincoln Hotel in Carlton. He’s hosted fundraising dinners and used FareShare produce to fuel his own charity meals during the pandemic. “They've opened my mind to sources of food waste and how it can be used for good,” he says. “It’s embarrassing that people go hungry in a country like Australia but food insecurity is a massive issue, especially in the last two years. Places like FareShare make a huge difference, both in awareness and practical action. I love them.” 

Margaret Campion has been volunteering for FareShare for 20 years, watching it transform from an ad-hoc grassroots effort into today’s streamlined organisation. “It’s just grown and grown,” she says. “In a way, you wish it didn’t have to but the need just keeps growing and we keep expanding to meet it.” The volunteer experience is satisfying and enriching. “We laugh and talk a lot,” she says. “Everyone has that common purpose: it’s about sharing and equality and acknowledging the plain fact that a lot of us are lucky to have homes and jobs and incomes and food. You know you are privileged and you want to share.”

The dignity of the recipients of the food is always in mind. “We put as much veg in as we can because we want the meals to be healthy, but we also want them to be interesting and delicious and have a home-cooked feel,” Campion says. “I’d eat the food we make with pleasure. It’s a simple concept but it’s always fantastic to know that someone is going to get a nice hot meal as a result.”

To learn more about FareShare or to donate, visit fareshare.net.au.

By Dani Valent

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