This is a text-only version of an article first published on Thursday, 26 November 2020. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.
"It's all about friendship. "
Three key people began a project with the ambition to help supply food to NHS staff during lockdown, and now charity Meals from Marlow is in full swing. TV chef Tom Kerridge, marketing expert Andy Agar and event manager Chris Hughes realised that furloughed staff from restaurants and events company Lush needed something to do.
Discovering that NHS staff coming off shift frequently couldn't get any food, they decided to pool their expertise and take swift action to help, and it took them just four days:Day 1: Devised a plan to raise money to purchase supplies. Day 2: A GoFundMe page was set up, £40k was raised immediately and Meals from Marlow began. Day 3: The church got involved to help with distribution. Day 4: The first meals went out.
Others were struggling too
The team soon realised it was not just NHS staff that were struggling - people who were shielding, ambulance stations and carers were also all in need.
Local church All Saints , with vicar Dave Bull, encouraged the congregation to play what became a key role, and the town council, mayor, local authority and the Link Foundation were all part of finding those who needed support.
The church and others became delivery drivers and within 72 hours, the friends had resources, funds and distribution sorted.
Two days later, the first 800 meals went out. Mu Reynolds, the church administrator, was shielding at home and ran the whole distribution process from there.
Drivers worked every day and are still going strong, with about 25 people on rota at present.
The church continues to run the operational side.
75,000 meals sent out
Costs plummeted as food suppliers started to donate produce, while the numbers needing support grew.
To date, they have raised nearly £180,000 and recently celebrated sending out their 75,000th meal! For 13 weeks from April to June, seven days a week, meals went out by car, on foot and by bicycle. On Sundays, hospitals found they had fewer volunteers, so spare meals were handed out to anyone who wanted one.
It's a random act of kindness which has brought a lot of pleasure. Now, meals are distributed twice a week, and the system involves bulk cooking, packing and freezing.
As meals are required, the food is defrosted and sent out, dated and chilled as fresh, for cooking at home.
For every meal sold in one of Tom Kerridge's restaurants, he gives a meal to Marlow. The people in need have changed too, with schools, the homeless and the unemployed now receiving help.
750 to 1,000 meals a week are now being made.
There are plans for a big fundraiser for Meals from Marlow after Christmas, and trustees from a wide variety of well-connected people are thrilled to be part of it. Andy Agar continues to run the function on a day-to-day basis.
When asked why, Andy said that after a lifetime in the commercial world, it is lovely to do something for other people.
He hadn't many friends in town before but is now connected with people he would never otherwise have known.
Even his own closest neighbours were elderly people he had never met, and he was able to help with shopping and errands.
He believes he now has a much better balance to his life. Going forward, Andy and vicar Dave would love to see this model replicated across Oxfordshire.
They are happy to advise about the best ways to do it - get in touch below!Contact Andy Agar or Dave Bull