So, it all began on Thursday 3rd March, about a week after the Ukraine war began, with a conversation between two of our traders – Barry Gaskell in Southport and Sylwia Rzeznik in Spalding.
Silv (as we know her) has a great back story. She came over from Poland back in ‘07 and has done everything from picking flowers to grading onions to QC to now… a fully-fledged trader.
She’s great – the embodiment of everything Boris fails to recognise in the benefits of immigration, we’re proud of her.
Not surprisingly, she trades heavily with Poland. So, Barry asked if we could do anything to help feed the Ukrainian refugees. Silv was on it like a rat up a drain pipe! She found a Polish charity, Agrounia, on t’internet who claimed to distribute food to the refugees. I say “claimed” because you have to be careful. Sadly, there are many claiming to do so but not actually doing so – fraudsters.
Silv checked them out as a charity on the Polish government website and they ticked all the boxes. However, confirmation really came when she was chatting to a veg grower/packer she deals with over there who said he not only knows them but was already donating veg to them himself.
Silv then contacted the main guy at the charity and we were at the races! He was keen to have veg off us, particularly long shelf-life basic lines such as spuds, carrots, onions, cabbage etc. Also, fruit such as apples and oranges. Silv was then on a mission to pull together a full load with the help of her boss, David Noton, and to blag as much as she could!
First port of call was our Lithuanian haulier, Girteka, who kindly offered a 50% discount – we made up the rest. We collated everything for the truck at our depot in Evesham. We also supplied all the onions from our own farms. We needed plenty of spuds and Bartlett, Greenvale and Pryor down in Cornwall all kindly stepped up to the plate. Jonny Hammond insisted on supplying all the carrots & snips. John Saul supplied the cabbage, Jack Buck the celeriac, Poupart the apples, Fountain Fresh the oranges. All free of charge, God bless ’em! Turners even threw in free transport for delivering the goods to Evesham.
And then we had a problem. A nice one though. Too much gear!
So, we asked the charity if they could take another truck which they welcomed with open arms.
We put out a call for new suppliers to donate goods and they came forward in their droves. Fruco and Alfred Price for apples, Seddon for Leeks, Baxters Highbrow for Cabbage and Fresh Food BE for pears.
One of our guys at Evesham, Dicky Dyde, mentioned it to one of his customers, West Country Fruit Sales. They asked if they could please donate dry goods which the charity was keen on. So, a mixed pallet of everything from rice and pasta to tea, nuts, flour and cleaning products was pulled together at short notice. West Country also donated a pallet of caps and remarkably, one of their growers insisted on donating £500!
The milk of human kindness.
And so, we ended up with the same problem again. Too much gear.
Roll in truck number 3!
The first load left Evesham on Wed 9th March and I’m pleased to say arrived safely yesterday morning – Monday 14thMarch. We’ve just heard the second load arrived safely last night and third load is making good progress.
The Polish veg packer I mentioned earlier on is helping out by taking the loads in and breaking them down for loading onto the various smaller food-aid lorries and vans. We’re now saying to the Polish charity, you let us know when you’re ready for your next one and we’ll arrange it.
The response from suppliers, customers, hauliers and our team has been truly overwhelming. Thank you all for your support and hopefully your continued support in this magnanimous endeavour. I think this demonstrates the extraordinary generosity of our industry. We’re all working on wafer thin margins that are being pushed to breaking point by hyper-inflation, much of it caused by this war, and yet we’ve been inundated with donations. I’m proud to be part of an industry that has been overwhelmingly generous to provide the very best form of food, the most healthy and nutritious, fresh produce, to feed the Ukrainian refugees.
Author: Tim O'Malley