A charitable project between the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) and Costco in Aston has delivered over £1m of food to those in need.

The initiative has helped to feed more than 1,000 people every week in the West Midlands area since its launch in October 2011, by utilising food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

By joining forces with Costco, and making best use of their date-limited perishable food, the project is a shining example of how the SVP in Birmingham has turned concern into action.

Back in October 2011 Jean O’Connor, then a member of SVP Birmingham Central Council, discovered the Birmingham unit of Costco in Aston, an American wholesale organisation, had dated perishable food that was going to waste.

She approached the local General Manager and asked whether she could have this food for same-day distribution to local homeless and needy families. The company agreed, confirming a six-days-a week, Monday to Saturday, ‘take-all’ arrangement.

What Jean hadn’t realised was that on occasions the amount of food for collection each day would not only fill her own car to the roof (front seat and all), but her daughter’s car as well!

In January 2012 Bob Service, also of SVP Birmingham Central Council, joined Jean to ‘share the load’.

The pair realised using their cars was not ideal due to the large quantities of food involved, and so they appealed to SVP Birmingham Central Council for a van - and the funding for a properly-managed project.

The project was sanctioned by the SVP National Council and the van purchased.

As the cost was well within budget signage was added to the van, so it would be recognised by hostels and those in need, and to provide information about the SVP and its work.

“After only a couple of days’ van use, it became very evident the food could not be transported without some form of shelving,” said Bob.

“Jean and I made silent prayers for a cost-free solution - the following day two sets of wooden shelving appeared outside Costco!

“I took one look and realised the shelving units would fit into the van perfectly. On asking the Costco manager what was to happen with them he confirmed they were surplus to requirements and were to be skipped. There are times in one’s life when the speed and manner of a prayer answered leaves one in awe!”

After Jean left the project in August 2012 an appeal for more volunteers was launched.

At the annual SVP Festival Mass at St Chad’s Cathedral, Bob met Mary Scott, the SVP President at Olton Friary, whom he had not met before.

On hearing of the need not only did she volunteer, but agreed to find others to help.

Deliveries have since been made to a rota of daily drops, together with providing food to support the Birmingham multi-faith evening Soup Run and local families known to be in need.

“Over the past seven years Mary and I have now formed two separate teams of driver volunteers,” said Bob.

“We have 30 distribution volunteers, from several Christian denominations and none. Either singly or in pairs they each go out once a month.

“We are also grateful to the North Warwickshire Circle of the Catenian Association for their financial and volunteer help and to all those individuals who have given their time and money.

“We are now on our second van, having recently passed the major milestone of having distributed over £1,000,000 of Costco date-limited perishable food since the project’s inception.

“This has helped to feed more than 1,000 needy people each week in the West Midlands area.

“This is an incredible partnership with Costco and long may it continue.”

A spokesman for Costco said: “Costco Wholesale has a number of global environmental sustainability programmes in place and we therefore employ various initiatives in our continuing efforts to minimise the amount of waste going to landfill.

“Some amount of food waste is an unfortunate inevitability in any retail environment and we therefore believe that reducing our own amount of waste to an absolute minimum, whilst at the same time supporting those in need within local communities, is of paramount importance.

“We are proud to be a part of this extremely worthy cause.”

If you live in the Solihull area and would like to get involved in the project please contact Bob on 07809 542554.

Caption one: Jean O’Connor with van number one

Caption two: Mike Feery of North Warwickshire Catenians doing a Smethwick drop