Fill Their Lunchbox
A chance encounter saw local social enterprise “Fill Their Lunchbox” (FTLB) and Odyssey House Christchurch collaborate, providing lunches to feed hungry children and the opportunity for Odyssey House residents to give back to their community, supporting men in drug and alcohol treatment.
In October 2016 FTLB desperately needed larger premises to cater for the growth in demand for their lunches. By chance, Odyssey House was looking to partner with a chef to help support its full-time residents with their general kitchen skills.
The collaboration seemed like a logical solution – Odyssey House provided a commercial kitchen and extra support from its residents, and in return, the FTLB team provided the residents with food preparation know-how.
Odyssey House Operations Manager Anna Christophorou said the residential programme required the men to live onsite at Odyssey House and, as part of the programme, to contribute as part of the cooking team. “The men are expected to cook for up to 25 residents at a time, yet some have limited experience when it comes to being in the kitchen,” she said. “They are not used to cooking on a commercial scale, so it's a big task to cook high-volume, good quality food.”
Ben Atkinson, founder and leader of the FTLB team and his volunteers moved their operation into the Odyssey House kitchen in October 2016.
It soon became evident that the collaboration was having a positive effect on the residents. An in-house survey undertaken in February 2017 supported the anecdotal evidence of its success.
“The report showed the impact of having FTLB in the kitchen was not just about increasing the amount of lunches being made for the children, but that it provided the residents with a way of giving back,” said Christophorou.
A summary of the report showed that the residents felt that their involvement in making the lunches allowed them to be more engaged with the community, and they relished the challenges and responsibilities that came with working in the kitchen.
Further feedback suggested that the collaboration provided the residents with a sense of belonging, accomplishment, boost in self-esteem, external support, the opportunity to socialise with people external to the programme, improvement and understanding of various practical cooking skills, and an appreciation of the altruistic nature of the work.
One resident revealed that having the team in the kitchen increased his confidence when cooking, while another valued how the nature of their work had such a positive impact on the community.
"I love the fact that kids who wouldn't get are receiving food. No one should have nothing, especially our kids," Atkinson said.
Another ex-resident of the house, Liam,* credited his current success in life to Odyssey House and his introduction to the FTLB team.
“Having the team in the kitchen gave me the feeling of still being a human being, and having a connection to the outside world,” he said.
Liam graduated from the Odyssey House programme in November 2017 after 13-months living in the house. He said he was so inspired by what he learned as a resident that he now works as a part-time employee for FTLB and hoped to forge a career in the food industry.
“I'd love to see my future as a cook,” he said. “They've given me confidence, a direction, a passion and a road to go down. I would've never discovered or known I was into cooking if it wasn't for FTLB.”
Christophorou said Odyssey House recognised the collaboration as an opportunity for a rare connection.
“It's quite a unique situation to have a social enterprise working inside a therapeutic community,” she said. “Treatment services are usually very closed environments.”
Odyssey House was impressed with the results of the collaboration and could see FTLB as remaining part of the Odyssey House service for the foreseeable future.
“It's provided a less clinical approach to treatment,” explained Christophorou.
“The whole community supports each other to learn and to hold each other to account - FTLB are now part of this community by the fact they are here.”
To cater for growing demand and the need for more space, Atkinson recently installed a container-kitchen on Odyssey House grounds and is urgently seeking support from local plumbers and electricians to complete the installation of the container-kitchen.
Once the container was fully operational, Atkinson hopes to further expand his social enterprise to cater for corporate and large-scale events. He said his vision of expansion involved engaging different groups in the community, and getting as many people involved as possible.
“Our dream is to fuel disadvantaged children and to provide them with an equal opportunity to learn, to succeed and break the poverty cycle,” Atkinson said. “And we do that by helping people, help people.”
“Treatment is one part of an individual's recovery, but the proof is really what happens in the community,” Christophorou explained. “The more we can do to engage our residents in their community, the better. We hope that by having FTLB in Odyssey House, we can provide our residents with a taster of a different environment, providing a pathway to further education and training. And that can only be a good thing.”
For more information on Odyssey House and its services, contact Anna Christophorou on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0212163675.