It’s all go at Flo’s in Florence Park. The kitchens are in full swing serving a wonderful dahl with onion bhajis, salad and rice, the cafe is bursting with new mums, friends, pensioners and students enjoying a delicious but cheap lunch, and the tables outside are packed with people enjoying the sunshine.
“I’ve retired recently so it’s hard to afford a meal out. This a great way to get out, meet my friends and eat some nice healthy food”
Except that today is a bit different because Flo’s – The Place In The Park – part of the recently formed OX4 Food Crew, has just launched Meals on Mondays from 12 noon to 2pm, a new initiative to encourage those struggling to afford a meal out to come along and ‘pay what you feel’ without any judgement, completely anonymously, no questions asked.
I meet Shelley, Beverley and Liz outside enjoying lunch. “I’ve retired recently so it’s hard to afford a meal out now. This a great way to get out, meet my friends and eat some nice healthy food,” Shelley tells me. “And I’d rather buy my coffee here than at a chain,” Beverley adds.
Other initiatives being organised by the OX4 Food Crew, set up to tackle food inequality, include food parcels, cooked meal deliveries and free cookery classes for parents and careers.
:Lots of people lost their jobs in the pandemic or are caring for someone who is ill, so to be able to provide a healthy lunch is the least we can do”
Flo’s cafe shares the community owned hub with community midwives, a refill shop, nursery and countless other local initiates and charities. It opened as a modern day community centre in the former children’s centre in 2018 after a massive local campaign.
Manager Makena Lohr shows me around and introduces me to the customers, staff and chefs on duty, before we settle down for some of the delicious lunch and a chat.
So why Meals on Mondays and why now? “During the pandemic we realised that some of out local community really didn’t have access to food and meals and needed emergency support so we set up the OX4 Food Crew with Ark T, Waste2TAste, Oxford City Farm, Oxford Mutual Aid, Donnington Doorstep, Oxford Community Action, No Vice Ice and Damascus Rose Kitchen because together we are stronger.”
Read about Damascus Rose Kitchen here https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/review-absolutely-delicious-completely-authentic-and-brilliant-value-for-money-damascus-rose-kitchens-syrian-food-at-oxfords-ofs/
“It means people can come and pay less (or more) for their lunch with dignity, rather than take handouts, so we are trialling it at the moment because in OX4 there is a lot of poverty, and the rising price of living means that lots of people find it hard to eat healthily, or else go hungry.”
So why now particularly? “Lots of people lost their jobs in the pandemic or are caring for someone who is ill, so to be able to provide a healthy lunch is the least we can do,” Makena says.
“For example one family comes here because the father was studying and then couldn’t get a job because of the pandemic, and his wife just had her second child so they were reliant on food support. And now they are back on their feet, she volunteers here, so everything comes full circle.
“That’s why it’s really important that people know about meals on Mondays and we get the word out.”