Community café fed thousands of struggling families during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 16:00 09 September 2020

Prayag Rajpura and Jemma Coles with Jay Adams when they launched the scheme.   Picture: MARK ATHERTON

Prayag Rajpura and Jemma Coles with Jay Adams when they launched the scheme. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

Archant

A Weston community café made up more than 15,000 packed lunches so children did not go hungry during the lockdown.

What started as a project to stop the Stable Cafe’s stock going to waste snowballed into a major operation, with Prayag Rajpura and his small team working 17-hour days to put balanced meals together.

He said it opened their eyes to the suffering the pandemic had caused, particularly to those who fell through the cracks of Government support schemes.

With schools reopening this week and feeding pupils, the teams are getting back to what they do best – helping people who are out of work get back into employment.

Prayag told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We started a couple of days before the lockdown. We could see what was coming. We had all this stock left over and there were all these children who wouldn’t be getting a free school meal.

“We thought we’d do a couple of hundred lunches and that would be it. As other businesses started closing down they started donating their stock to us. It snowballed from there.

“By July we’d had more than £7,000 donated by local people.

“We’ve never done anything on this scale. There weren’t many of us doing it, we tried to keep numbers down to prevent infection.

“There were times where I fell asleep in the café. Some days we’d be there from 6am until 11pm. There were long days when it got really busy – one week we did 2,000 pack lunches.

“When we weren’t making lunches we were sourcing bread or processing orders or begging companies for donations.

“We have families of our own and there were days where we thought, why are we doing this? At times it felt too much.

“You forget the impact it had until you speak to people. We’d get messages from parents saying what a difference it had made to them. We had no idea of the level of suffering.

“People were losing their jobs. Some fell through the cracks and weren’t entitled to support.”

Prayag said one of the flaws in the Government’s food voucher scheme was that parents were handed the money in a lump sum. By the end of the summer the money had run out and demand for the Stable Café’s packed lunches increased.

He said the main reason for winding down the packed lunches is that schools are reopening, and they are better placed to offer support, but the Stable Cafe may do something over the half-term break and Christmas.

The community cafe opened in February to support people who have been out of work to get back into employment, often because of issues with their mental health, criminal convictions, or substance abuse.

Prayag said: “I’m a former drug addict. Someone took a chance on me and my life is pretty awesome as a result. Employment is the key to some kind of normal life.

“People can volunteer with us and see if hospitality is for them. We can support them through apprenticeships.”

The Stable Café cooks food donated through Fareshare that would otherwise go to waste, meaning that the menu is constantly changing.

Reflecting on the packed lunch scheme, he said: “We couldn’t have done it without the whole of Weston coming together.

“Thank you for helping us to do what we’ve been able to do.”

He thanked Jemma Coles and her team at Stable Weston, saying it would not have happened without their support.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Weston Mercury. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Weston Mercury