Charity, Community and Commitment
We sat down for a chat with Reuben, a particularly kind and community-minded student, to find out more about his charitable commitments. Reuben has been working at his village Community Fridge every Sunday since Spring 2021 as part of a team whose mission is to reduce food waste and help people who are struggling. He talked us through a typical day at the Fridge and explained his reasons for devoting his time to helping others.
what first inspired you to start working at the community fridge?
My family and I have always been involved in volunteering, so when the idea came up for a Community Fridge right on our doorstep, we knew we wanted to be part of it as it is a really good cause. We help prevent perfectly edible food from being chucked in the bin. My dad, my sister and I will all go out and do it together which is really enjoyable. The other volunteers have come to feel like family too – it’s a real community.
What motivates you to keep working there?
It’s partly that you get to meet all these new faces, and partly the gratitude and appreciation which people show for what we do there. You see the impact you make on the people who use the Fridge and that’s what’s really special and motivational. Both the volunteers and the customers get a great deal out of it, chatting and getting to know other people, either standing in the queue or working behind the counter.
What does a typical shift look like?
We start off by going to the sorting shed. We’re the people with the van, so we begin by shifting all the crates into the back of the van and then we will help unpack food into freezers and fridges. We drive over the road to our community hall and another team then take things out of the van and lay them out on tables. Once we’ve distributed everything and people have gone home, we take away the remainder. Stuff to be stored goes back over to the shed; stuff that’s expired that we can’t give out or that won’t keep until we next open we try to give to famers to feed their cows. There are a few things which sadly have to be binned, but we use about 98% of the things that we are given and that food is made use of by the community, be that individuals or farms.
The food comes from a variety of shops and restaurants which would otherwise be binning excess food. Nando’s, for example, will freeze chicken which is about to go out of date and then give it to us. The Oxford Food Hub takes in lots of excess food and then we help to distribute it; last week, for example, they had a whole pallet of ginger ale and pink grapefruit craft drinks. Their Best Before date wasn’t until February 2024, but they were going to be binned. Any supermarket in North Oxfordshire, we likely collect from, and then we give the food away, completely for free. Anyone can come to the Fridge, which makes it different to a food bank. For those who are needy and vulnerable, we have separate parcels made up beforehand for them and they take priority. Everyone else has to queue but has nothing to pay. All the produce is very nicely presented and there’s lots of choice. It’s lovely to see people coming together and helping reduce waste.
What was it like volunteering at the Fridge during COVID?
It was a bit different for us because we had to wear masks and we were very conscious of food hygiene. We had to be very thorough when it came to sterilisation of the food and the tables and things. It was tough but we got there.
Do you find it challenging to balance your charitable work with your schoolwork, particularly with GCSEs coming up?
The Fridge opens twice a week, once on a Wednesday when I’m at school, and once on a Sunday 10 – 11. I turn up at about 9:30 and I’m finished by 11:30. It’s only two hours out of my week, and most of my peers are sleeping at that time anyway! I’m not missing out on school time or study time and it feels great to be doing something productive.
What would you say to your friends to encourage them to dedicate their time to others?
I’d say always give to and focus on others before you focus on yourself, because if you focus on others when they need you, everyone else will come back and focus on you when you need them. I don’t believe in karma, but I believe that when you help others, then when you need help, you can ask others for it. That means that you’re always insured almost, you’re safe from other parts of life.
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