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Veteran who fought Covid and homelessness battles food poverty at Christmas

Cocoa Fowler is making sure the surplus food in his community is going to people who need it — but he needs your help to do it.

A formerly homeless veteran is fighting food poverty this Christmas, delivering leftover food from farmers and supermarkets to food banks and community fridges in his local area.

Cocoa Fowler, from Peterborough, has delivered more than 1,200 tonnes of food through his charity since 2017, but being hospitalised with Covid-19 and pneumonia in May means he needs a bit more support over the festive period.

“I will always try my best to carry on collecting food and giving to the community where needed, but Covid has made me weaker,” Cocoa told The Big Issue. 

Now, Food for Nought, run by Cocoa, his friend and colleague Neil Cowson, and a team of volunteers, is looking to find a permanent base and upgrade some of their second-hand vans so they can deliver more food to those who need it.

The charity has set an ambitious target of £10,000 to help them scale up the operation through an online donations page titled Cocoa’s Christmas Appeal.

The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest network of food banks, has predicted a massive increase in families needing support with food over Christmas. Research published in September suggested food banks could be giving out six support parcels every minute.

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Cocoa said food waste has massively increased in the Peterborough area and across the country since lockdown, often due to “major chain restaurants… shutting down.”

Food for Nought were “drafted in to clear out the freezer and fridges [at some restaurants] to re-distribute the excess food that would have otherwise been wasted,” he said.

He said the team is also currently tackling a large backlog of aeroplane food. 

With furlough, reduced wages and the elderly shielding Cocoa says the reliance on food donations is now huge but many people are embarrassed about their situation.

“We speak to all people that we provide for and we try to build a rapport” he said. “I can relate and I try to assure them it will all be ok in the end.” 

If Food for Nought had a base to work from, Cocoa says it would “mean the world”.

They would consolidate their collections within the Peterborough and Huntingdonshire area, which would allow greater access to the excess food and enable more volunteers to help them.

Raised in the care system, Cocoa left school to serve in the Royal Artillery for 15 years.

In 2005, he volunteered in Sri Lanka with the tsunami relief effort but became homeless when he returned to the UK, battling with physical and mental health issues.

It was only when he approached a charity for help with food that he saw a new life for himself and after being asked to help as a volunteer driver the idea of Food for Nought was born. 

“I was once a person in need and have an understanding of how it feels.

“Being there to help people get out of the difficulties they are in is a great reward,” Cocoa said.

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