Feeding London With Compassion – guest post by Lindsey Solomons of taste2taste

We are living in unprecedented times. I have heard and read those words so many times over the last few months. My Mum said in March that the Covid-19 pandemic will bring out the best in some, the worst in others. One such positive story is Compassion London, a charity set up in March 2020 by Leon Aarts. Leon is a chef and motivational speaker with many years experience working in the Hospitality Industry. He woke up one day worried about the number of people that would be impacted by the pandemic and lockdown. Leon’s vision was that no person should go to bed hungry, without a decent hot meal. Leon had previously set up Calais Kitchen cooking and supporting the refugees in Northern France. His experiences in France  meant he knew what would be needed to set up something to feed London’s vulnerable communities. Within 3 days of coming up with the idea Leon had formed the charity and posted on Facebook asking for donations. There are lots of Ingredients and produce that often go to waste, that the Food Industry can’t utilise for various reasons. He also sought monetary donations, packaging and mostly importantly volunteers.

Cabbage Prep

A diverse range of people answered Leon’s call and volunteered to help. Cooking the meals in the kitchen, packing and labelling them, delivering to many places all around London, and behind the scenes dealing with the logistics, procurement, supply chain, and the people. In fact everything required to ensure that the meals can be produced and delivered in a seamless way. Chefs, foodies and many other volunteers with an array of different professions have worked to produce meals for the NHS & key workers, the elderly, the vulnerable, the homeless, and people shielding at home. The charity is supporting hospitals, care homes, charities, schools, food banks, and many more establishments. At the height of the pandemic many hospital canteens  and supermarkets that were usually open 24/7 were shut. So key hospital staff, tired after a long shift, working  in very difficult circumstances, weren’t eating properly – just at a time when they needed a decent, nutritious meal. So Compassion London delivered meals to many hospitals to help support our NHS Heroes.

Leon and Naomi organising stuff

Two friends, Alexis and Louise had volunteered from the beginning. They mentioned I might be interested in volunteering for Compassion London. I have a background in the Food Industry as a Food Scientist specialising in New Product Development. I also have had some experience working as an assistant cook as a student. I was excited to get involved after speaking with Naomi and Leon.

Maryam chopping ginger
Michelle frying falafel
Chef Danny & Lorna checking the falafel
Washing up with a smile

I have been helping the team prepare ingredients and packing the meals in the kitchen. It has been a really fun experience meeting and working with chefs, caterers, front of house managers with hotel, restaurant, cafe and events hospitality experience. Together with students, teachers, a security guard, an optician, a health & beauty therapist, psychologists, an airline steward, a probation officer, local councillors, a tree surgeon, a professional gambler, a handwriting expert, builders, procurement, HR, sales and recruitment managers, charity workers and many more. From the barrister washing up, and the student chopping veggies, to the nanny packing meals. Bringing a team together, all with different skills but with a common goal of wanting to help. Professionals from the Hospitality and Food Industries together with everyone else working in harmony to produce simple, nutritious meals and deliver them as part of Compassion London.

Collecting meals for delivery across London

We have cooked in some iconic London locations. Saracens Rugby Club at Allianz Park, Wembley Stadium – the Football Association’s venue where England often play their home matches, to Alexandra Palace, the home of UK’s 1st televised broadcast. Ally Pally, as it is known locally, is a beautiful Victorian building. It has a lot of personal memories as I could see Ally Pally from my family home growing up in North London. It also has a wonderful park and an amazing view of the London skyline due to its hilltop location.

During my work for the charity I have met and worked with some characters with amazing stories. Professional chefs who have worked in fine dining restaurants and hotels such as The Dorchester, Harry Lomas MBE, together with Gerard, Stefan and his team at Delaware North, who are responsible for hospitality at Wembley Stadium. During match days Harry and his team make up to 90,000 meals in one day including 10,000 silver service dining from the amazing kitchens at Wembley Stadium.

Harry has cooked for the Queen, The Royal Household, and the Military, for example ensuring  all the Military stationed at Camp Bastion were well fed.

Chefs Gerard & Harry

Working with the Wembley Stadium chefs, who all volunteered their time to support, has been a great learning experience in how to work smartly and efficiently.Also the creativity required by all the chefs at every location, as there is not much notice as to what ingredients and produce are going to be available each day. Compassion London is supported by a number of other charities including City Harvest London, Edible London, and The Felix Project. They collect surplus food from food suppliers, manufacturers, supermarkets and elsewhere.So if couscous, marinated olives, venison, white radishes, leeks, sweet potatoes, green beans and coconut oil arrive, chefs definitely need to be creative to devise the meals to be cooked from the ingredients available. From 200 meals a day at the start, to over 6,000 meals a day working with the chefs team at Wembley Stadium. 

Ensuring the butternut squash curry is cooked to perfection

Compassion London has produced 250,000 meals since it started in March which is a fantastic achievement. There have been some tough, heartwarming and funny stories along the journey. Leon told me about a mum, shielding after her cancer treatment, caring for her young child alone, who had eaten nothing but ice cream for 3 days as she was unable to go out shopping. Danielle told me about the Saracens Rugby Club Professional players that visited the kitchens one day to support the charity. We all wear PPE and someone had kindly donated some homemade face masks. The sight of a 6 foot 3 professional player wearing a mask with frilly elastic straps that looked liked it had been made from a pair of ladies knickers. Some banter from his team mates – all in good humour for a great cause. Leon talking ‘chopping’ which sounded a bit like ‘shopping’ with his Dutch twang, his passion, inspiring us all whilst we cook. Josh and the admin team sorting out our food safety training and electronic shift booking systems, with some initial challenges, always overcome with a positive attitude.

It has been a welcome relief and therapy for us, to get out of the house, sometimes challenging with lots of personalities, but amazing camaraderie.

Lindsey Solomons
The Packing Crew

Looking forward there will be many vulnerable people to help, support and provide nutritious meals, to ensure no one goes hungry, whatever their circumstances. Many people to feed, the joy at being able to help, everyone doing it with compassion at Compassion London.

If you would like to find out more, help or donate please contact info@compassionlondon.org and checkout the website link below.

Guest post by Lindsey Solomons Co Founder taste2taste.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.