‘Make Good Use of My Time – and Share a Bit of Happiness With Others’

Volunteering alongside a full-time job? Sounds like a stretch. After starting a new job, Bastian Ammelounx suddenly found himself with more spare time and he decided to make the most of it. Together with other volunteers, he works hard to make sure that all users of the Düsseldorfer Tafel food banks get their fill. MPULSE spent a day looking over his shoulder.

A man from Tafel

7:30 am – the little kitchen at the local food banks is buzzing. Andrea Schütze, the heart and soul of the office, keeps her team motivated. Her enthusiasm is contagious: after being given the lists, Bastian Ammelounx and 6 of his colleagues are busy making phone calls. They all start with the same words: ‘Good morning, Düsseldorfer Tafeln speaking. Have you got anything for us today?’

The answers determines the day’s routes. Schedules are tight: after a quick briefing, jobs are allocated and everyone heads out to check the transporters. Ready, set, go. Today, Ammelounx takes care of the METRO tour. Picking up food is quite different from his day job.

He has spent the past 20 years working in the fashion industry; in his previous position, he was the general manager of an Argentine fashion label. ‘There are plenty of beautiful things and expensive products involved, but it’s all very superficial. I was looking for a real contrast to that and I found it here.’ The work for the food bank is fulfilling for the 39-years-old. ‘I make good use of my free time here, giving back a little bit of my own good luck.’

As a driver, Ammelounx is responsible for deciding which products are delivered to the individual distribution centres. He always makes an effort to ensure that every centre receives a fair share of products, even though it involves extra work on his own part. All products must be checked carefully: the food bank regularly receives items that are not suitable for delivery, which obviously upsets Ammelounx.

A baker to look up to

The first stop on today’s tour is nothing like that. In the warm glow of the morning sun, Ammelounx’s van stops in front of Bäckerei Hinkel, a local bakery. He strides into the shop and Hinkel employee Stefan Beisenherz welcomes him cheerfully. The air smells like freshly baked bread rolls; it is warm and noisy inside. Bäckerei Hinkel is a traditional Düsseldorf establishment that has been working with the food bank from the day it opened.

Tafel Düsseldorf e.V.

Tafel Düsseldorf e.V. opened more than 25 years ago. It is a mobile food bank service run by around 50 volunteers, who collect food and deliver it to 9 distribution centres, where the local entities take care of its further distribution. The organisation also supplies welfare establishments.

Nobody leaves our shop empty-handed. We like to make sure that everything is used up.

Stefan Beisenherz, Bäckerei Hinkel
The food bank volunteers drop by to pick up baked goods 2 or 3 times every week. ‘And we are very happy to help,’ Beisenherz comments. Bäckerei Hinkel does not let anyone go out empty-handed: ‘We try to make sure that our customers can still find something here, no matter at which time of the day. So we always bake a little extra. If we have leftovers at the end of the day, we pack them up and give them to those in need.’ Apart from the food bank, the bakery also supplies nursery schools and small, private charities.

His work for the food bank has also changed Ammelounx’s own attitude towards food: ‘I try to plan my shopping and cooking to minimise waste. And I place more trust in my own senses again.’ - not just the best-before date . Every year, German food banks rescue around 265,000 tonnes of food that would otherwise be wasted. That is enough to make 528 million meals. But the volunteers care about more than just food waste. Their priority is to keep those in need fed. Ammelounx has no doubt: ‘If it weren’t for the food banks, many people would go hungry.’

A partnership to eliminate waste

The next stop on the tour is METRO. Ammelounx comments: ‘We are glad to be working with this partner.’ The wholesale product range is full of surprises: ‘At some point, we got black tomatoes. The whole delivery team was quite baffled! And we occasionally get unusually sized items, such as massive sausages or whole cheese rounds.’ After parking his van at a loading bay, he meets Niclas Seithümmer of METRO Germany. They open the rolling shutter expertly: these men have no time to waste. Seithümmer, who started his vocational training with METRO in 2016 and now works in the dairy department, knows the goods issue process inside out.

Seithümmer explains: ‘There are very strict regulations, both external and internal, governing what can be sold for how long.’ Any items that are still perfectly good to eat but no longer fit for sale go to the food bank. Apart from dairy products like cheese, METRO also supplies the food bank with delicatessen products, cold cuts and fresh fruit and vegetables. ‘I’m glad that we can do some good.’ At the same time, METRO continuously works on reducing its surpluses.

If it weren’t for the food banks, a lot of elaborately produced foods would go to waste.

Jochen Schmitz, Manager at METRO Germany
Nevertheless, it rarely happens that he and his colleagues have nothing to offer to the volunteers. ‘The food bank is a good and meaningful consumer at the end of the supply chain’, Schmitz comments. But the real problems must be solved at its beginning: ‘Everyone needs to question their own sense of entitlement when it comes to the selection and availability of products. Industry and retail need to think about their attitude, too.’ At the loading bay, a METRO employee signs the delivery note and Ammelounx continues his trip to the distribution centre in Düsseldorf-Garath.

Distribution with heart – and a slide rule

Ammelounx‘ colleagues are already busy unloading goods at the car park in front of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church. Inside, the church is buzzing with activity, but there is also an atmosphere of quiet reflection. 2 rows of tables, each about 40 metres long, are covered with food products, all sorted according to a strict system. The helper in charge of baked goods looks over today’s bounty: she calculates, sorts the items, recalculates and packs bags. ‘It’s only a good day when everyone gets their share.’

Burkhard Schellenberg, who has run the food bank in Garath for the past decade, remembers that it used to be frequented primarily by elderly people. ‘These days, we get people of all ages. Around 60% of those who come to my food bank are refugees.’ The food bank was forced to stop accepting new users as demand surged about 5 years ago. Today, it supplies food to around 8000 people, each of them can pick up a bag once every 14 days. If a user misses 3 pick-up days without giving any reasons, they are removed from the database. This may sound harsh, but it is a necessary measure to ensure that others get a fair chance. The rules are transparent and available in at least 4 languages. Additional day vouchers ensure that nobody is sent away empty-handed.

Additionally the food bank also organises cooking classes to teach its users what to do with the food they are given. Schellenberg says: ‘We experience extraordinary gratitude here. It makes all the hard work, time and responsibility worth it.’ Speaking of time: for Ammelounx, it is time to take the van back to the head office.

Every day is different, but the goal remains the same

At the end of the collection trip, all volunteers meet for lunch – right where they started in the morning: in the kitchen. Ammelounx praises Andrea Schütze’s cooking: ‘It always tastes amazing.’ Every day is different, but the goal never changes: to feed the poor of Düsseldorf. Our reporter is deeply impressed by the commitment of the volunteers and the clear sense of a win-win situation for everyone. Then she wonders: what’s for lunch today? The answer: whatever concoction can be conjured up from the leftovers in the fridge.

METRO and food banks

METRO AG has been supporting Tafel Deutschland e.V. since 2006. But it has been working with local food banks for much longer: The METRO wholesale store in Düsseldorf has been partnered with Düsseldorfer Tafel for decades. METRO can only achieve its sustainability goals with the help from partners. One of these goals is to halve food wastage by 2025. The food banks are a reliable partner in this process. Promoting food appreciation in society is also an important part of their work. The topic was the focus of a touring exhibition organised jointly by METRO and the German food banks on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. On 28 September 2019, the German Food Bank Day, METRO extended its partnership with the food banks for 3 years – well ahead of the originally intended renewal date.

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