Every now and then, entrepreneur Cynthia Stroud takes a look at the mountains of food, packed and ready to go to hungry families, and think “how on earth did this happen?”
Twice a month, more than 2300 families around the UK receive a free food parcel from Cynthia – each pack enough to make 25 meals. “I knew families around me were struggling and I knew I needed to help feed people,” she says.
As part of our campaign with KFC, we are sharing stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things to help their community through the current crisis – those heroes who want to give people more of what they love.
Cynthia from Hertford has been doing just that.
Back in May, she got in touch with a couple of local schools to see how she could help. They told her at least 100 families were struggling to feed their children amid the pandemic, and she had a flash of inspiration.
“I cleared the shelves at Sainsburys and Tesco, borrowed some tables and put the bags together in my front garden.” She delivered the food packs to schools so they could distribute them.
“I thought it was just a one-off. Teachers were quick to get back, telling me parents were in tears. I just didn’t realise just how much impact it would have. I felt so humbled and then I thought ‘you just can’t leave it here’.”
News of the initiative spread and more families joined her scheme. “I’ve been struck by the sheer scale of the need,” she says. From local schools in Hertfordshire, she now organises and sends food packs to schools in Essex, Liverpool and plans to roll out further schemes around the country.
A single mother of two, Cynthia had lost thousands of pounds worth of business when the pandemic hit her award-winning wedding cake company, and she was paying for the food herself – at £10 a pack.
“Part of me said ‘what are you doing, you need the money’, but I felt a stronger need to do something.” She’s also started a new business – Pretty Gorgeous Jams – and has worked at as television food judge in the UK (Channel 4, BBC2, Food Network) and in Canada.
She moved to the UK from Nigeria in 2004, with just enough money for the first term of her business degree, but her strong faith gives her confidence.
“I don’t come from a wealthy family, I don’t have a partner to provide, but nothing I’ve ever done has been reliant on having all the cash up front.”
Generosity from others has helped. A spontaneous cash donation from a neighbour prompted her to set up as a charity – which then allowed her to buy far cheaper food from anti food waste charity FareShare. Volunteers help with the packing and a local club offered her space to store her food.
“Before then I’d had baked beans and cereals stuffed under the dining room table.” Despondent that she’d have to pay up front to hire vans, a local garden maintenance company stepped in.
“And now I have the beautiful vans and volunteer drivers, and we don’t have to pay a penny.”
A local councillor heard of her work and donated £4000 from a local authority fund to help out during the virus. “We don’t have cash reserves.”
It’s the response of teachers and parents that have kept her going. One letter she received from a mother of seven boys left her in tears. “She was so grateful, she told me how hard it was to cope.”
Cynthia and her team don’t meet the families themselves. “I’ve been in a position myself where I’ve needed help before. I want to preserve their dignity. I don’t want them to feel they have to jump through hoops for support.”
Rewarded in 2016 with a Queens New Year’s Honours medal of the Order of the British Empire for services to business and the community, Cynthia has just picked up a Lloyds Bank National Business Award (Pivot for Purpose).
For many, food is more than just fuel to keep us going, it’s a way of showing our love and bringing comfort in a difficult time.
This year may have been tough but it’s good to remember it has also served up some incredible stories of kindness, determination and joy in communities across the UK. And we think that calls for more…gravy!
To add some festive cheer, and give us all more of what we love, the Colonel has a special gift for the nation: behold KFC’s new Gravy Burger Box Meal, featuring a fillet burger with added gravy!
There’s also a new gravy boat to add lashings of legendary KFC gravy to your chicken burger, topped with a specially-dimpled hash brown that allows the gravy to pool over your meal.
The sides have had a gravy upgrade too, mayonnaise becomes Gravynnaise… yes, that’s mayo with added KFC gravy!