Cheers Drive: The UK’s first free food delivery service for the homeless

By Lucy Gatward

You may have seen the provocative posters around Bristol over recent weeks. (“Just because you’re safe indoors doesn’t mean everyone is”). This campaign starkly highlights the plight of a group of people who can’t follow ‘stay at home’ messages, because they haven’t got one. Lucy Gatward meets the people behind the Caring in Bristol campaign, Project Manager Eve Russell and Campaigns and Communications Manager Antonia Cross.

Cheers Drive is the latest initiative from homelessness charity Caring in Bristol. When lockdown was announced at the end of March, people were moved from the streets and shelters into hotels. “Food provision for homeless people is usually based around communal eating,” Caring in Bristol Project Manager Eve explains. “This abruptly stopped, with no plan in place to feed the people who relied on it. Cheers Drive was quickly created to plug that gap”.

Communications Manager Antonia explains further: “The idea behind this fund-raising campaign was (and is) to get people to donate £10, which buys a day’s worth of food, delivered as a takeaway. Each food parcel contains breakfast, a packed lunch and a freshly cooked hot meal.”

The charity was well-placed to take up the challenge. “We already had links with the Bristol restaurant scene from other projects such as Caring at Christmas”, continues Antonia, “Plus a pool of volunteers, so our network was already in place”.

And with that, Cheers Drive set out to feed as many of the newly ensconced hotel residents as possible.

Thanks to those restaurant contacts, teams of chefs are now giving their time for free in four kitchens, each with a specific set of tasks. The Night Shelter does breakfast and lunch, Bianchis’ Production Kitchen also does lunch. The Kensington Arms and Emmeline Café at Spike Island organise dinner, while award-winning chef Josh Eggleton on hand to help with menu planning.

Local businesses have stepped up to provide ingredients. “We get a weekly donation of fresh fruit and vegetables from wholesaler Total Produce,” continues Antonia. Other supplies come from Arthur David (another catering wholesaler based at St Philips Fruit Market) and Bartlett’s Butchers, as well as FareShare South West.

The food parcels are fantastic. Eve gives us an overview: “Breakfast may be a sausage or cheese sandwich or a tandoori patty. Lunches have included cheese, cabbage and potato bake, or a hearty minestrone. For dinner we’ve dished up slow-roasted pork shoulder, roasted butternut squash served with roast potatoes and greens, stuffed mushrooms with spiced couscous, and a beef or veggie ragu pasta bake with cavolo nero”.

In the eight weeks since lockdown, Cheers Drive has delivered more than 30,000 food parcels to over 400 people per day. Some 75 volunteers have given 810 hours of labour a week, which would have cost move than £9,000.

The project is funded by donations from individuals, “with support from some amazing local trusts like the Quartet Community Foundation and TAP for Bristol”, adds Antonia.

Volunteer shifts are currently full, but if you’re interested in giving your time, keep an eye on their website and social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). The best way of helping is to donate via the Caring in Bristol Emergency Appeal webpage.  

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