Imagine 130,000 kilograms of bread – that’s enough for more than 2.6 million sandwiches – being thrown away each year, much of it ending up in landfill. Then imagine that bread being rescued and shared with people who need it, making lives happier and healthier.
Every week, volunteers get together at four outreach centres in Sydney to make that rescue happen, sending loaves, rolls and packets of Lebanese-style flatbreads to soup kitchens, charities and migrant support centres across the city.
The Gift of Bread food rescue organisation, which started in 2007, collects bread from more than 20 bakeries across the city, including Shepherd's Artisan Bakehouse, Bakers Delight, Sonoma, Brooklyn Boy Bagels, Baalbek Bakery Canterbury, and bakeries at Coles and Woolworths, among others. Groups of volunteers get together in centres in Marrickville, Erskineville, Lewisham and Balmain.
“There is so much food that goes to waste. Gift of Bread prevents hundreds of thousands of kilograms of bread ending up in landfill,” says Angela Mills, who has been involved for three years, and coordinates the Balmain outreach centre. “It's such a simple way of helping.”
“I manage the roster for the three stages of process, picking up bread, packing and delivering. Most of our volunteers [at Balmain] are former students and present families from Fr John Therry School and parishioners from St Augustine's Church. As well as coordinating the roster, my husband, two children and I help with the packing.
“If you're Italian, you're likely to eat that really crusty style bread … But [at] a nursing home ... you're going supply something that's a little bit softer."
“I love that young and old can be part of the program. Every Tuesday evening, the church hall is buzzing with people all there for the common good of serving others. The little children run around the hall playing and, in between, they grab bags of bread and put them in the correct crates. The adults catch up on the week while quickly bagging the bread. It takes less than an hour. Gift of Bread builds community.”
Between the four centres, the collecting, sorting and delivering operates six days a week, sending bread to more than 150 community organisations, including The Exodus Foundation, Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets, Red Cross and St Vincent De Paul Society projects, the Asylum Seekers Centre, Wesley Mission and Mudgin-Gal, an Indigenous women’s organisation.
Different types of bread are sent to different centres.
“We receive bread from the bakeries, process the bread, and then supply the charities that actually need the different types of breads,” explains Gift of Bread founder Marcel De Maria.
“If you're Italian, you're likely to eat that really crusty style bread … But [at] a nursing home where you've got older people, then you're not going to supply that style of bread, you're going supply something that's a little bit softer. They like sweet breads.
“The flatbreads will go to charities like the Asylum Seekers that are working with a lot of families from the Middle East, who are accustomed to that style of bread. It goes to Chris Riley's Youth Off The Streets, where they do outreach to families that are from the Middle East … and to a charity called St Merkorious. They're basically a soup kitchen-cum-food pantry and they do the fruit and veg and meals for less fortunate families.”
“It's nice to know that it's going to people in need, and people that have had it tough."
At Baalbek Bakery Canterbury, Lebanese-Australian owners Dominic Moawad and Adam Haddad are happy to see their unsold flatbreads going to a good cause.
The bakery makes up to 6000 packets of Middle Eastern-style flatbreads a day. For the past three years, they’ve been giving unsold bread to Gift of Bread collectors.
“It's nice to know that it's going to people in need, and people that have had it tough,” says Moawad. “Especially because of the family background ... My parents’ family started off in Turkey and then moved to Syria, and then to Lebanon, and then to Australia.” The bakery was started 41 years ago by Moawad’s father and his uncles, who had been bakers in Syria and Lebanon, and is still a family business, now run by Moawad and Haddad, who is married to Moawad’s sister.
“I know that the bread is going to a good cause … We’re happy to be a small part of it.”
Gift of Bread also holds regular footpath barbecue fundraisers, using some of the donated bread. The Street Food fundraisers feature a different cuisine each time; past events have offered wraps from Greece and the Middle East, Vietnamese banh mi and Chinese-style burgers, inspired by the popular rou jia mo street food from the Shaanxi province (home to the legendary terracotta warriors).
Gift of Bread has grown enormously from when it started in 2007, but one thing has not changed. The original idea, De Maria says, was to do “something good for the community”. The 300 or so volunteers involved now are still doing exactly that.
If you’d like to volunteer with Gift of Bread, or find similar schemes in other places, search using the term “bread” at The Centre for Volunteering.
SBS's new season of Filthy Rich & Homeless is an honest and compassionate exploration of what it’s like to be homeless in Australia today as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored. Watch the trailer below:
Filthy Rich and Homeless airs over three nights – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August on SBS from 8.30pm. A special live studio program will air directly after episode three.
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