42 year old James from Chesterfield knows just what it’s like to be seriously worried about putting nutritious food on the table for his kids. James was granted sole custody of the two girls and two boys - all under 10 years of age - in 2018, and this family unit has been through some hard times so far – but James knows it’s going to get even harder moneywise.
“We all lived in a one bedroomed flat for a year, which was really challenging for everyone, but now we’re in a house with a garden, which I’m very grateful for, because the girls now have some privacy,” James said. “But becoming a single dad almost overnight is something you don’t get taught how to do properly, and I couldn’t have made it so far without the help of Gussie’s Kitchen.”
Gussie’s Kitchen was founded in 2016 by the local community and councillors, and is run entirely by amazing volunteers from the Chesterfield area. It’s a ‘kitchen with benefits’, a social eating place where people come together at meal times to enjoy nutritious meals using food provided by FareShare, and also get support for other needs.
Local residents Lisa and Kelly have been involved from the outset and Lisa – now a local councillor herself - says the charity’s basic approach is that there’s plenty for all, and that everyone is welcome: “Gussie’s provides a very real lifeline for many local people who are in food poverty or are becoming increasingly isolated,” she said. “We’re also very much driven by environmental sustainability, and the weekly delivery of FareShare food – all good quality surplus food that would otherwise go to waste – really works well for us.”
FareShare food deliveries arrive on Tuesdays, and the pantry shop is visited by more than 180 members on Wednesdays.
James says Gussie’s is simply amazing: “The food is a real lifeline for me, as the sole carer to four young children – but it’s also about the community support they offer. The kids can throw up real challenges at times, and I know I’ll be listened to and helped with my problems – it’s like a big family, all pulling together."
“I love that I can go and just chat about things that are worrying me - there’s always someone with the time to listen. And I get lots of practical help too - my youngest flooded the bathroom and water poured through the kitchen ceiling and onto the kitchen whitegoods below. They weren’t safe to use but I had no money to replace them – but the Gussie’s community sorted funding out for new ones, which was just brilliant, I wouldn’t know where to start with something like that.”
James has no car, and doesn’t get out much, so the fresh fruit and veg from Gussie’s makes a massive difference to the meals he can provide his young family – even though sometimes he has to look something up to know what it is, and what he can do with it.
“Gussie’s volunteers are fabulous, they know many of us don’t have great cooking skills, so they put all the ingredients you need for, say, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese, all in a bag, with a recipe card, so the kids are getting really good meals.”
But James is still concerned about the future, even though the family makes every economy it can:
“Everything’s going up – food, taxes, heating – and I’m really worried about what it’ll be like in winter. If I get a big bill I arrange to pay off a certain amount every month - anything to avoid the bailiffs! But the council are also taking extra money out next month so I’m having to pay their bills, while other bills are going up.”
Lisa said James is one of many people in the same situation:
“We’ve noticed a big increase in numbers coming up, particularly people who work fulltime but still can’t afford bills. We couldn’t help all these people without FareShare food – but the situation is just getting worse. It doesn’t matter where you come from, the struggles are real.”
Please support FareShare Midlands to reach more families like James' by donating here.