Around 45 minibuses could be filled daily with the unwanted food that Claire Hopkins collects from local supermarkets. It ensures she has enough food to produce 15,000 meals a week to feed those in need for free. 

Ranging from fruit and vegetables to cakes and meat, they are items which are just past their sell-by-date, but still edible, and would otherwise be heading to landfill.

Instead Mrs Hopkins, 39, and her team of 50 volunteers use the five to six tonnes of groceries, donated every day by Costco, Marks & Spencer, and Tesco amongst others.

Mrs Hopkins started as manager at the Community Food Bank at St Saviour’s in Sunbury, more than three years ago and quickly turned it into an operation that partners with local supermarkets.

She estimates around 1 in 9 families in the local area will be missing a meal or going to bed hungry which she describes as an ‘’injustice’’ given ‘’there is an absolute mountain of food being binned and you have people who are starving and need food.’’

And while those who benefit from the food bank are very grateful, Mrs Hopkins is in turn thankful to staff at Oak Hill Academy in Feltham who also recommend her food bank to some of the families of children at the school.

She is keen to extend special thanks to Jane Cooper, who is parent liaison officer at Oak Hill, Jake Findlay, head coach at Premier Education, and Nathan Smith, School Business Support Assistant.

As a key worker she is able to drop her twin boys, William and Lewis Hopkins, 11, off at the school where she knows they will be looked after and cared for allowing her to concentrate on a job that has now become a seven-day a week operation.

She said: “My message to school staff is that you’re making a huge difference! Allowing people like me to continue with my work means that I am able to help so many families in our community. I am so, so grateful!”

“Over the Easter break and even the Bank Holidays, the staff at Oak Hill went above and beyond the call of duty to care for the children of key workers. The sports and activities provided by the Premier Education team during the Easter break were fantastic.

“Without the phenomenal support from the team at Oak Hill, who have effectively been providing free childcare for my twin Year 6 boys, I would not have been able to do what I do. It is so amazing that I can drop my kids off at school and know that they are safe, well cared for and actually enjoying themselves!’’

Claire (in the pink top) is pictured below with another volunteer Ann-Marie McAllan, Jane Cooper, Jake Findlay and Nathan Smith.

Earlier in the year around 5,000 to 6,000 meals a week were produced for the 400 families being supported in Feltham and surrounding areas.

Since lockdown the number has more than doubled to around 900 families a week with anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 meals a week made.

The majority of families that Mrs Hopkins helps have been referred. However she revealed the demographic of those seeking assistance has changed dramatically since lockdown. It now includes those who were on zero-hour contracts, small business owners, self-employed construction workers and beauty therapists.

She said: ‘’A lot of these workers tell us they’ve never done anything like this before [accept help from a food bank] and they are mortified. But a food bank is for everyone and we will help anyone.

‘’It’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook when it comes to preparing the meals – we work with the ingredients we have on the day. One day it could be chicken, mash and vegetables, the next day it could be burgers.’’

The food bank also uses facilities in Ashford and Stanwell where the meals are prepared and frozen before they are included in food bags which are handed out and will include a number of other items such as tinned food, cake, fruit and vegetables.

Mrs Hopkins, who lives in Feltham said: ‘’My days begins at 5am with sending out emails and then getting the children ready for school. We then go to our local, partner supermarkets to collect surplus food and then return to the site to sort and prepare the food. In the afternoons, we will serve people and give out the food, before cleaning down and packing down for the day.

“I leave around 3pm to pick up my children most days, but it is a 24/7 job. When I get home, I will continue with admin work and speaking to various different people.

‘’There is nothing else I would rather do. This is a rewarding job and I love it.’’

By numbers:

Five to six tonnes: The amount of food collected daily from supermarkets including Costco & Marks & Spencer that would otherwise go to waste.

45: The number of minibuses that would be filled daily with the surplus food collected.

12,000 to 15,000: The number of meals handed out per week to families in need.

900: The number of families that receive meals a week

5am: The time Claire Hopkins starts her day running the food bank.