Burglars target Real Junk Food Project social supermarket - but volunteers refuse to be disheartened

The team behind a groundbreaking 'social supermarket' say they have been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support after their warehouse was targeted by burglars.

The Real Junk Food Project's Kindness Sharehouse, which opened in September 2018, operates a pay-as-you-feel model for selling on food that would otherwise go to waste.

Real Junk Food Project founder Adam Smith at the Kindness Sharehouse in Wakefield.

Real Junk Food Project founder Adam Smith at the Kindness Sharehouse in Wakefield.

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After a break-in at the warehouse in the Headway Business Park on Sunday, founder Adam Smith took to social media to issue a message aimed at those responsible.

It inspired not only kind words of support for the project's volunteers, but also donations of equipment including a computer, laptops and a secure container for storing valuables.

A locksmith and an engineer even offered up their skills to help secure the site and get the project's van back on the road.

In his message to the burglars, founder Adam Smith had written: "To whom ever broke in to the Kindness Sharehouse, we would like to apologise for your inconvenience.

"In future, if you just ask us for money or food, we’d probably give it to you. You didn’t have to break our safe attempting to break into it; or smash open our donation bucket, or damage our keys.

"Please keep the £250 you stole from us and you are always welcome back to volunteer and find out more about the important work we do. However, please return our van key as it is vital for the work we do every day.”

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While his words might not have reached the intended target, they certainly struck a chord with others as the team later shared an update giving their thanks for the "outpouring of support, messages and acts of kindness" they had seen in response from people locally and further afield.

Within hours, a new desktop computer and recommissioned laptops had been donated by local Airedale Community Project to replace those stolen and allow volunteers to record the volumes of food delivered each day.

Leeds firm Ace Container Services Ltd also lent a hand by providing a secure container for the safe storage of non-food items.

Meanwhile, a locksmith who saw the post turned up to fit new locks to secure the warehouse and an engineer helped them replace the van key so it could be brought back into use.

There was praise too for the "compassionate response" from West Yorkshire Police, which was supporting the organisation's decision not to press charges but to instead offer the people responsible the chance to volunteer and meet the team.

Read more: Pioneering Leeds pay-as-you-feel cafe forced to close

Buoyed by the support, the team said they would be opening the supermarket as usual this week to continue in their mission of "feeding bellies, not bins".

Rachel Trafford, who works for the project, said: "Having so many offers of help and support, it's just great. What we would really want to come from it is it doesn't discourage anybody.

"We're still really committed that there will be no judgement for anyone who comes in. We would always promote kindness to anyone and everyone."

She said the team were very grateful to everybody for their continued support of the project and its goal of reducing waste while tackling food poverty.

"We'll still operate in the same way and the burglary won't change what we do and how we do it," she said.

It is not the first time the team has responded in this way after one of its sites was targeted by burglars.

The former Armley Junk-tion cafe was ransacked in June 2016, with the person responsible finding no money kept on site overnight.

Mr Smith also took to social media on that occasion, saying it was fortunate the burglar had not been injured and suggesting they ask for help directly if they were struggling.

What is the Real Junk Food Project?

The project began in 2013 with a pay-as-you-feel cafe in Armley, Leeds. It served meals produced from food that was past its sell-by date or had been declared surplus, but was otherwise safe to eat.

It has since become a global network, with various cafes and other projects around the UK and beyond. They include providing low-cost food parcels for families, supplying produce to schools and a catering wing.

The organisation estimates that is has saved more than 5,000 tonnes of food - the equivalent of 11.9m meals since it began.Its headquarters are the Kindness Sharehouse in Wakefield - a social supermarket stocked only with intercepted food and open six days a week.

On Monday, the Sharehouse reached a major milestone as the volume of food to have passed through its doors surpassed the 100-tonne mark.