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Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The community kitchen that feeds Calais’s refugees and Camden’s homeless

It provides more than 1,500 meals a day

Written by
Nicole Garcia Merida

‘It wasn’t really a case of why, but of why not,’ says Janie Mac about starting Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK), a charity providing hot meals to people in need in France and the UK. ‘We feel that everyone deserves a meal that you or I would expect on our dining room table, and don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t have that.’

RCK was founded in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis in northern France, after Mac and a group of volunteers travelled over to the Calais Jungle, a refugee and migrant camp that housed thousands and was dismantled five years ago. The group fundraised and sourced the equipment to set up a kitchen near the camp, and made meals from donations of surplus food. But it wasn’t long before they realised a lot of this food didn’t have a long enough lifespan to make it to Calais and, motivated by the rising number of homeless people in London, set up outreach services across the city to feed disadvantaged people in need of a home-cooked meal.

RCK’s Camden outreach is its longest-standing project in the UK. It was founded in 2016 after a successful supper club fundraiser. It purchases essentials like rice and onions, but gets most of its food from The Felix Project, a charity that saves surplus food from going to waste, to serve dozens of hot meals four days a week throughout the borough of Camden. ‘We have tapped into this amazing world of chefs and cooks that come in and want to provide a nourishing, delicious meal for those in need without any judgement,’ says Mac. RCK also has outreach services in Brixton, east London and Edinburgh.

The group’s kitchens closed throughout the first lockdown, but reopened afterwards and have continued to operate throughout the pandemic. ‘The service provided on the street is much, much bigger than just a meal,’ says Mac. ‘People are lonely; people want human contact. They come here because it’s a safe space.’

The organisation continues to provide 1,500 meals a day to the migrants and refugees who remain in Calais. It was forced to shut its kitchen after the camp was closed in 2016, but a rotating group of volunteers serves food wherever people are congregating, providing meals to migrants and refugees in Germany and northern France.

All the money RCK raises through donations and its shop – which sells hoodies, T-shirts and its very popular recipe calendars – goes towards buying food and supporting the UK and northern France operations. This year’s calendar features recipes from RCK resident cooks as well as British chef Andi Oliver and Michelin-starred Italian maestro Giorgio Locatelli. Mac’s favourite recipe is Afghan eggs, cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. ‘People sit around and eat it together and commune. It’s just a lovely dish.’

Read about the new fund to support refugees in London

Support Cue Point’s scheme to make the restaurant industry more accessible to refugees

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