British social enterprise collects fresh surplus food for low-income families

Community Shop, a UK-based social enterprise, collects fresh surplus food and redistributes it at reduced prices for low-income families. How can this help fight food waste and food insecurity?

Neil Hall/Reuters/File
Shoppers browse the aisles in the Canary Wharf store of Waitrose in London January 23, 2013. Community Shop, a UK-based social enterprise, collects fresh surplus food and redistributes it at reduced prices for low-income families.

Community Shop: More Than Just Food is a social enterprise that works to combat food waste and food insecurity through collecting fresh surplus food that would otherwise be discarded by retailers and manufacturers in the United Kingdom. Community Shop then redistributes that food at reduced prices across the country. Members must meet certain income requirements, receive some government income support, and be motivated enough to sign up for the program.

Community Shop is not a charity. It's focus is entrepreneurial, but with a social edge. According to Community Shop: "It’s a little known truth that poverty affects more households where someone has a job, than households where no-one works."  

Antonio Dorileo of Community Shop, explains that "with our current infrastructure, surplus stock is a common occurrence within the food manufacturing industry. This food is perfectly suitable for human consumption, but for a variety of reasons it cannot be sold. This might be because the goods are short-dated, have misshapen or damaged packaging, or are from out-of-season promotions. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and dairy products, pre-packaged meals, and home cleaning products. The stock does vary throughout the year because of the nature of surplus foods, but there is always a wide selection members can choose from, making it indistinguishable from other supermarkets and importantly, ensuring that the dignity of our members is preserved." Community Shop makes this food available to members at prices up to 70 percent off.

Following the success of their South Yorkshire location in northern England, Community Shop has opened their first store in London. According to Dorileo, "The London store signals the start of our national expansion program, and we are looking at a number of sites for new stores both in and out of London. Our aim is to open 20 more Community Shop stores across the United Kingdom." Each location has between 500 and 750 members.

An important part of every Community Shop is the Community Hub. Community Hub provides a range of support services for members tailored to specific situations and needs so members can achieve food security and financial stability. "The main purpose of the Community Shop model is to try and help people back on their feet and the work we do in the Hub is key to this. We like the principle of the profits generated from our members being used to fund the support we offer them. Community Hub is at the heart of every Community Shop - " says Dorileo.

The Hub includes a success plan targeting areas in members' lives where they would like to see a positive change. Courses and mentoring are offered that focus on self-confidence, debt management, financial knowledge, and career planning.

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