Eat Well MCR, the non-profit organisation co-founded by chef Mary-Ellen McTague, has reached its goal of delivering 100,000 meals to people in crisis and food poverty across Greater Manchester.
With the help of some of the best-known restaurants and hospitality figures in the city, the initiative was formed just days into the pandemic in March 2020, when chefs were faced with the prospect of throwing away perfectly good ingredients as their premises were shut down indefinitely.
Instead, McTague founded the Eat Well MCR project alongside Kathleen O’Connor and Gemma Saunders, and began using the city’s restaurant kitchens and its chefs to turn the ingredients into meals for those who needed them the most.
Among those who have lent their expertise to the organisation are the likes of Where The Light Gets In, Dishoom, Hawksmoor, Hip Hop Chip Shop, Elnecot, Erst, Hello Oriental, Beehive and Nell’s while influential movers like Cloudwater’s Paul Jones, Honest Crust founder Rich Carver, Tampopo’s David Fox and MiF co-founder Christine Cort joined the non-profit’s board.
“What makes this initiative truly special is the extension of this generosity beyond the restaurant doors,” said McTague on reaching the milestone.
“It is heartwarming to witness the hospitality community channelling their innate desire to look after others to a cause that goes beyond commercial interests.
“In an industry where financial margins are tight and endeavours can sometimes feel cynical, this outreach is a stark contrast – a genuine effort to make a positive impact on the community.”
Meals continue to go out weekly from the city’s restaurant kitchens, and are then delivered by Eat Well and their volunteers to some of the 6,470 homeless children living in temporary accommodation in Greater Manchester, as well as women sheltering in refuges, families using food banks and parents staying with poorly children in Manchester Children’s Hospital.
“It’s about providing a moment of respite to people who for one reason or another are facing extremely harsh realities,” said Kathleen. “We hope our meals give recipients that feeling you get when someone prepares something delicious just for you.”
The project was initially formed from a hastily formed WhatsApp group called ‘Emergency Food Response’, shared among chefs in the city.
It was soon realised that the resources at hand could be used to help the many people falling through the cracks of government support.
“I remember sitting outside Cloudwater Brewery two weeks into the pandemic,” said Gemma.
“We had a vague plan and had been making meals from Mary-Ellen’s restaurant already. We were reeling, like everyone else in the world.
“Ross and Owen from Beehive turned up out of nowhere and offered us their van, loads of equipment and their cheery spirit. That’s when I first realised it was bigger than just us. And how much people cared. And how kind people are.
“This has stayed with me – and stayed with us. Generosity beyond my imagination.”
As well as delivering food across the city and providing meals for kids during school holidays, Eat Well has also initiated other fundraising projects, like adding £2 ‘ghost meals’ to restaurant menus, as well as partnerships with the likes of Parklife and Salford brewery First Chop, which made Eat Well’s own beer.
Recently, it held a community dinner event at the National Trust’s Castlefield Viaduct, cooked by Where The Light Gets In’s Sam Buckley, a group of young people aged 12 to 14 from Rekindle – a supplementary school based in Hulme.
Mary-Ellen added: “Eat Well MCR is a true reflection of the goodwill and selflessness that define the essence of hospitality in general and especially in Manchester.
“It’s an endeavour that resonates with the desire to create meaningful and positive experiences for others. To be able to do that for people facing crisis is a privilege.”