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Working in partnership to tackle waste and address poverty

Have you ever worried about where your next meal will come from? I never really considered that question before. But there are many who struggle with that worry every day.

Sonali Shah
Sonali Shah

Brand Development

Since joining Unilever US in 2011, Sonali has worked across Brand Development and Brand Building in Refreshment and Beauty & Personal Care. Currently, she is completing a year’s assignment at Hindustan Unilever in Mumbai with the Dove Skin Cleansing Global Brand Development team.

In Europe alone, over 55 million people can’t afford a regular quality meal every second day.* And yet each year, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food – about a third of all food produced in the world – is thrown away. World hunger is a huge and devastating issue but, as I’ve come to learn, it’s very much a solvable one.

As a Unilever Global Foundation Ambassador, I had the opportunity to see first hand how the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA) – which brings together 264 food banks in 22 countries across Europe – is truly making a difference. During my trip, I visited one food bank on the outskirts of Paris – a perfect example of how to limit food waste from every aspect of the supply chain and support the fight against hunger.

The day began very early with a drive – alongside dedicated volunteers – to local food grocery stores such as Monoprix to collect produce and perishable goods that were nearing their expiry date. We picked up boxes of yoghurts, juice, fruit, vegetables and meat that were still perfectly good to eat but would have otherwise been thrown away.

It’s the partnership between the store manager and employees who separate these goods every night and the food bank volunteers who pick them up every morning that keeps this precious supply chain working. After filling our truck, we headed back to the food bank warehouse where more volunteers unload and carefully sort the goods to ensure quality and ease of distribution. By afternoon, we began seeing individuals from local charities, religious organisations and support centres come by to pick up their stock.

What surprised me most was the people on the frontline who are keeping this entire operation running. The men and women donating their time and effort at this food bank ranged from their mid-20s to late 60s. I chatted with a few as we emptied the trucks and learned they come here about three times a week in the morning, and then head to their full-time job, working an afternoon shift.

Although I always knew I wanted to help out on a regular basis, I thought I would do so once I had the time later in life. But these people were making time right now… and were so much happier because of it. Their energy and enthusiasm were infectious and they were always willing to lend a helping hand. It’s the type of atmosphere that comes from the simple feeling that you, as one individual, are a part of something bigger that is truly making a difference.

Talking to FEBA volunteers and Unilever employees, I learned more about how we are working together to improve lives in local communities. I was really impressed by one promotion programme: during the campaign, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Unilever products is donated – in the form of products – to food banks. This annual promotion is supported across all Unilever brands, stores of the grocery chain and the food banks. It’s good for the consumer, the company and the community.

Some Unilever employees also arrange day trips with their teams to help their local food banks with product collection and distribution. After meeting a number of individuals, I realised just how easy and important it is to get involved with my time and skills, and how every little bit truly does help.

Unilever is now aiming to replicate this model worldwide through a new partnership with The Global FoodBanking Network, an NGO that supports and strengthens food banks globally. You can get involved by organising volunteering activities to help your local community, starting conversations on the waste issue and spreading the word. It’s a great opportunity to play your part in shaping a brighter future.

*Source: Eurostat

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