Social Justice

Carib Eats: Meet the grassroots group helping the needy with Caribbean food and community

This grassroots community organisation in Hackney is feeding people Carribean food each week and giving them a community – and they get a game of Bingo too!

carib eats

Ali Kekande, who founded Carib Eats in lockdown. Image: Carib Eats

Ali Kakande got a phone call from a 19-year-old man. He had not eaten for two days. “Is this Carib Eats?” he asked her. Somehow he had managed to find her number.

“He came here and the average age is 66,” Kakande says. “He said: ‘What are we eating today?’ It was curry goat with rice. He wolfed it down. Not one person in here went: ‘Who’s this lad?’ What they did is gave him what he needed. And what he needed was love on that day.

“It was so touching. We had a quiz and they made him captain and he was like: ‘How don’t you know these answers?’ I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he was on the brink of something. And that’s what I want for Carib Eats. We’ve got our regulars, but I also want people to come in when they need it.”

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Kakande has spent many years working in the community – in prisons, local government, social services and tackling child exploitation. But she never imagined she would be launching her own grassroots organisation, feeding people in the community Caribbean food and building connections.

It’s every Friday lunchtime at Northwold Community Centre in Hackney. “People start trickling in around 12pm. I’ll tell you, we have some characters. They like sitting in the same place. We’ve seen a lot of warm spaces. I always say Carib Eats is a warm space by no design. We’re designed for connection. A lot of people who come in need that.”

Volunteers and guests at Carib Eats. Image: Carib Eats

The tables are all connected together in a long line so that people can chat together. They are covered in canary yellow table cloths. “We don’t force connections, Kakande says, “but there’s no way someone could come here and no one has said hello to them. They come in, have a cup of tea or whatever they want, and then we play a little Bingo.”

At around 1pm they all eat – a delicious Caribbean meal – followed by a second activity which is often a quiz. “It’s hard coming into a new space, isn’t it? It can be easy to feel like you don’t belong. But we do our best to make it warm and inviting.”

Carib Eats was started in the pandemic following one request for help. Lockdown had shut down the world and Kakande remembers being in her kitchen blasting music when she got a WhatsApp message in a local mutual aid group chat, which helps distribute support to people who need it most. A resident was worried about her brother going hungry that night as his support system was closed off.

Kakande decided she would make an extra portion of her dinner that night and bring it over to him. It was emotional. He was unable to cook for himself and the house needed work.

“I had gratitude because I was in a position to do that,” Kakande says. “Some people are very isolated. My life is busy so I welcomed the chance to help people and I was in a good position to help.”

And Carib Eats grew from there, as they responded to more callouts from people who needed help. “This wasn’t news to me that people were living this way because of my work. I knew people were struggling to pay the bills and going to food banks and homeless. What lockdown did for me was highlight that.”

At the beginning, they were dropping people’s food and waiting in the driveways, and as things started opening up, Kakande would have chats to people and go in and sit with them. They had a chat at a time which was lonely for so many people. “It was a really special time,” she says. “We got to go out, meeting all these people.”



Kakande knew Carib Eats could be so much more – and it could do so much to build connections between people. They now get around 25 people coming in each week. She doesn’t advertise it because she doesn’t have the funding for many more people at the moment, but it’s her dream to have Carib Eats in every borough in London so they can help as many people as possible.

And that’s so important right now, in the cost of living crisis and as so many people are struggling. “People have always struggled – the people I’ve worked with,” Kakande says. “But more so, I think there are a lot of people using services that they may not have before. Maybe they didn’t before out of embarrassment and now they have no choice. It’s hard.

“People don’t choose to be in this situation. Most people can’t manage on benefits, so they’re having to use different services – and they’re services that the local council should be providing but the budget’s not there.”

A chef cooking up a delicious feast in the Carib Eats kitchen. Image: Carib Eats

But Kakande is keen to stress that Carib Eats is so much more than a space where people can get food. “It’s not about feeding the poor here,” she says. “What we’re doing is offering support to people who need it right now. We have some really tough cookies. They see right through it.”

It is somewhere people can go for a few hours of connection, warmth and community. And for people who have come from the Caribbean, it is a reminder of home. “It’s a space where all are welcome,” Kakande says. “I think it’s important that the food is familiar. You don’t have to come from the Caribbean, but that’s what we’re cooking.”

Find out more about Carib Eats here.

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