When a local nurse reached out to Frank Bothwell a few weeks ago, and asked the founder of the Hook Norton based global catering company Thomas Franks if he could help supply fresh, healthy meals to NHS frontline staff, he said yes immediately.
“She said they were on the knees and just needed some really good quality, fresh, healthy food they could take home and warm up when required,” Frank remembers.
Frank Bothwell being Frank Bothwell not only said yes, but had already begun setting up 15 feeding HUB’s around the country, producing up to 6,000 free meals a week for the vulnerable or needy and 1,500 NHS meals a day all over the country, and further afield in Dublin, Portugal and Malta where the company has bases.
“while running charitable projects is the hardest thing I have ever done, it just feels right and is so rewarding.”
Which means 145 volunteers and associated suppliers are currently working around the clock to supply the chilled, fresh, reheatable meals complete with full instructions from kitchens nationwide and in Malta.
The new ‘Feeding Communities’ initiative has also delivered food packages to thousands of front-liners, as well as one-off ‘thank you’ food gifts.
Oxfordshire’s Sibford School and Cranford House are such hubs, and Dematic software in Banbury is another.
Paul Bennett, catering manager at Cranford House School said: “As soon as Frank mentioned he was going to start TF Feeding I thought ‘yes, we would love to be involved in this’, and it’s great the school has let us use the kitchen. We are also enjoyed using our skills to give back to the community by volunteering to feed the NHS staff working so hard in these mad times, so that they don’t have to cook when they get home.”
Damian Roberts, head chef at Sibford School agrees: “I was grateful for the chance to help simply because it’s good to do my bit. But also we are chefs and we love to cook,” he says.
Local recipients include surgeries, Katherine House Hospice, South Central Ambulance Service, Ellen Badger Hospital and SOFEA Community Larder in Didcot which feeds vulnerable or disadvantaged people and supplies emergency food packages.
So how is the initiative funded? The Thomas Franks Foundation was formed just last year to give back on a number of levels. However, as the Covid-19 crisis deepened, Frank soon realised the vast scale of the problem and endeavoured to do more.
The result is the ‘Feeding Communities’ initiative, which aims to feed the vulnerable and those in food poverty through the use of clients kitchens, a team of volunteer chefs and Thomas Frank staff, in conjunction with other charities, the first being Kitchen Social, A Mayor’s Fund for London charity, which aims to feed the 400,000 children in food poverty in London.
“We jumped at this – but had no funding,” Frank says, “so we asked Barings (one of his clients) for help and they immediately donated £25,000 to allow us to feed 10,000 children. We also began partnerships with the Grace Foundation and The Long Table.
At first the Thomas Franks Foundation covered the average cost of £2.50 per meal. But as the need spiralled, Frank asked his current clients to help finance the scheme and secured £50,000 in a day, enough to feed 20,000 NHS employees.
“We are now doing this daily, from three key feeding HUB’s in London. This funding is separate to any other monies, mentioned and is ringfenced,” Frank adds.
Frank has also pledged to continue doing so long after the pandemic is over.
Post crisis the Thomas Franks Foundation will continue to provide food aid to vulnerable children in food poverty, the homeless, OAP’s and people in isolation, continuing the work of ‘TF Feeding Communities’
“I am just sorry I am late to this,” he says. “I kick myself for not doing this on a bigger scale 15 years ago. And while running charitable projects is the hardest thing I have ever done, it just feels right and is so rewarding.”
Funding from clients such as Barings, Gymshark, Wolseley, Paddy Power, Betfair and independent schools such as Radnor House, Mount Kelly, Hall Grove School and many more, has since increased to over £170,000, and more money comes in each week which is then allocated to specific new projects.
All funding secured however, lasts only a matter of weeks, hence the Virgin Money giving campaign. here is the link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1019087&stop_mobi=yes
So going forward, how does Frank see the initiative panning out? “I am in this for the long run,” he says.
“I believe that we should not only be giving nurses a free meal each day (as happens widely in many other countries), but we should also be paying them to train and qualify – not leaving them in a huge debt. But this is a government issue and only my opinion.
“In the meantime, the UK’s conscious is amplified at present on these NHS heroes, as it should be all the time, and one I’m happy to champion.”
Post crisis the Thomas Franks Foundation will continue to provide food aid to vulnerable children in food poverty, the homeless, OAP’s and people in isolation, continuing the work of ‘TF Feeding Communities’.
“I am proud of what we have achieved and of all the people who are helping us to achieve this, which is why we want to continue to help,” Frank continues. “It feels right to do so, even if the need has really surprised me, and it’s been so great to see people coming together to help out.”