A mum who once struggled to put food on her table now helps to feed as many as 27,000 people.
Hayley Steere, 41, said she was too proud to seek help, but wants to break down the barriers others in the same situation have.
She told MyLondon: “I remember 14 years ago when I was a single parent and I needed help with food but I never asked.
“It was my pride stopping me. I never used food banks or got free meals because of my pride. I wanted to help people in the same situation I was in.”
When the pandemic started and lives were thrown into disarray, the use of food banks became more prevalent throughout the country.
People were put on furlough or even lost their businesses and employment, meaning it became more and more difficult to put food on the table.
The Trussel Trust, which runs around 1,300 food banks in the UK supplied more than 2.5 million emergency three-day food parcels between 2020-21.
In 2018, the UK produced 9.8 million tonnes of food waste, the charity Waste and Resources Action Programme.
When there are so many going hungry, we are still wasting so much. It is a stark reminder of some of the issues facing this country.
That is what made Hayley create Free My Meal, a non-profit charity that helps get excess food to those most in need.
It works by matching cooks and recipients to each other. A cook can post in one of the Facebook groups or on the website detailing the food they have and the meal they’ve cooked.
A recipient will then respond, anonymously, asking for the food and arranging a way to meet up. The meal is then delivered and the family in need don’t go hungry and the food isn’t wasted.
“We don’t provide any meals as an initiative. But through our platform, we match people up,” she added.
“If you’ve cooked loads and have excess, we can find someone who would appreciate that meal.”
Free My Meals has more than 70 Facebook groups around the country. In London, there are specific pages for East and Central London.
There are currently over 27,000 members combined in every group.
For Hayley, she understands that in an ideal world the charity wouldn’t be needed, but appreciates the importance of it.
She said: “I’m more alright with the fact it’s needed because there are people like me, who won’t say they need help when they do.
“I could have used this service 14 years ago but never asked. It’s not right for people to go hungry.”
In total, Hayley thinks Free My Meal has helped facilitate over 7,000 meals for those most in need. The number could be higher in reality as people don’t always reveal when they’ve accepted food from someone.
Since starting in August 2020, Free My Meal has grown in numbers and has also got a number of celebrity endorsements for the great work they do.
Stars like Louis Tomlinson, Nigella Lawson and Tamzin Outhwaite to name a few have all praised Hayley for the fantastic initiative and the importance of Free My Meal in society.
Hayley hopes anybody in need can use Free My Meal and not feel embarrassed for doing so. She wants people to be able to use it in confidence and so far, that is what has been done.
“Nobody should feel embarrassed. Come get help from the community around you and get some food.
“For me personally, it’s not about any glory hunting with this. But when somebody messages us and says ‘we were really struggling and this food really helped us thank you so much’.
“I don’t sit here and think I’m amazing. I just feel grateful that we’ve been able to fill a hole in the short-term.”
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