DIDCOT-BASED food surplus charity SOFEA has explained how it has adapted its operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity has been working hard to help keep families fed during lockdown.

In normal times, SOFEA works with a national partner called Fairshare, and together they rescue surplus food from the food industry. SOFEA then supports about 150 charities by providing frozen chilled and fresh and ambient food for the charities to cook for their beneficiaries.

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SOFEA is still distributing food to residential care homes and homeless shelters; however, many organisations have had to shut their programmes. For example, school breakfast clubs are not running because schools are shut.

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This has led SOFEA to develop its Community Larder programme and adapt it for social distancing.

Richard Kennell, the CEO of SOFEA, explained how the programme works.

He said: “We have developed our community larder model which provides a free box of 10 grocery items plus a bag of fruit and veg for anybody in Oxfordshire that would like it.

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“We are supplying that into about 25 hubs across the county for onward distribution by volunteers or for collection by individuals and families.

“At the moment, that has increased to 3,500 boxes a week across Oxfordshire. It is being done in partnership with organisations like the city council, Witney Land Army and Oxford Mutual Aid - they are all acting as hubs for us.”

The food boxes are currently being delivered to residents’ homes but usually families are able to choose their own food to put in the box at SOFEA meaning families are able to make a connection with other people in the community.

Mr Kennell explained how SOFEA is different to a food bank.

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He said: “We don’t run any eligibility checks; people are able to have a box if they want one. We are different from a food bank, a food bank is there for people in absolute crisis. So a woman fleeing a domestic violence situation with children with absolutely nothing, their first point of call would perhaps be the food bank, whereas what we are doing is providing additional food for people who are struggling.

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“We also provide things people wouldn’t ordinarily buy because their budgets don’t allow it or find themselves in difficult circumstances.”

The charity has also been working with Blenheim Palace and using the kitchens that would usually provide food for tourists to make ready meals to distribute to vulnerable people.

Lockdown caused the hospitality industry to close last month and closures resulted in a huge upsurge of surplus food because it was in the supply chain but with no destination.

Mr Kennell explained that donations including 50,000 gingerbread men from Greggs or thousands of bananas has slowed down. Instead, supermarkets particularly Tesco and Co-op are now making stock available to SOFEA which is not surplus but coming from their main stock to ensure people in need do not go hungry.