Homeless man treks 48 miles each week to Richmond centre where food ‘waste’ is desperately wanted

When you think ‘eco-friendly’ you may envisage planting some trees, turning off a few lights or even buying that special, extra-expensive, eco-detergent from the supermarket.

Many may not be struck with pangs of guilt for throwing away that full pot of yogurt because it smelt a bit iffy.

The loaf of bread that’s past its sell-by date and looks a little stale isn’t doing any harm being chucked in the bin… or is it?

Every year in the UK we throw away the equivalent of nine Wembley stadiums full of food – half of which is still edible.

On average a family would save £60 a month if they stopped wasting food. Furthermore, it would improve the environment to the same extent as if one in four cars were taken off the road.

It’s not only ecologically damaging but it’s also hitting people in the pocket as families could save a whopping £60 a month if they stopped wasting food.

Financial issues aside, you could argue it’s hugely unethical.

With many homeless people on our streets struggling to find their next meal, it seems almost barbaric to dispose of perfectly decent food.

That’s why organisations like The Vineyard Project in Richmond are a welcome example of how to recycle unwanted food while supporting members of the community in need.

The charity-funded enterprise provides a lifeline to the homeless and under-privileged from the area.

They host drop-in mornings four days a week where they provide a hot breakfast, sandwiches, shower facilities and more.

Richmond’s centre manager Desiree Shepherd founded the project in March 2012 and has seen it grow both in terms of attendance but also in the number of shops and cafes who want to donate.

She said: “We have a contract with Pret-a-Manger, who have supported us right from the start.

“We go down and collect their unsold sandwiches which we are able to use until 1 o’clock the next day.”

The project offers an invaluable service to those struggling financially or who find themselves homeless in the area.

Charlie Patton, 56 from Northern Ireland, attends the drop-in centre twice a week.

He makes the 24-mile round trip from his Heathrow bed-sit but argues that it’s worth the trek.

He explained: “When you’re homeless no one wants to know you, because you have no money.

“Sometimes you smell because you have no access to ablutions and toilets, so when you come to a place like this it’s a haven.”

Charlie credits the food made available to him by The Vineyard Project for keeping him fit and protecting him from ill health.

“Being honest with you, if it wasn’t for The Vineyard Project here in Richmond, I would say I would be in hospital with an infection that I would have picked up off the streets,” he admitted.

“Because of the food donated here, and the five-a-day that’s required, it keeps you healthy.”

Companies such as Wholefoods, Richmond Hill Bakery and The Hummingbird Bakery also donate their un-sold, perishable foods to the cause.

Speaking to another of The Vineyard Project’s regulars, Oxford-graduate Mathew Davis, it is obvious how integral the service is to those in need.

He said: “I was in prison for a year and a half and there were only three places I wanted to be.

“One was Camden Horse Market, the other one was Hootananny in Brixton and the third place was here – it’s a little slice of heaven.”

Food donations are an essential component towards the success of the drop-in centre.

“If we didn’t receive the donations that we get, we wouldn’t be able to serve the way that we do,” said Desiree.

“All the donations are local and all relationships are built locally.”

Charlie revealed that this basement café at the end of the street had turned his life around for the better.

“When you have no money nobody wants to know you, not even your family want to know you,” he explained.

“So when you come to an organisation like this and somebody holds a hand out and says ‘come on, have a cup of coffee’, that is one of the most important things that has happened to me in my life.”

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