Hackney chef dishes out free meals from Dalston pub

Founder of Children With Voices Michelle Dornelly, chef Elaine Chalmers, and owner of The Spurstow Arms, Naomi Rogers.

Founder of Children With Voices Michelle Dornelly, chef Elaine Chalmers, and owner of The Spurstowe Arms, Naomi Rogers. - Credit: Courtesy of Elaine Chambers

A community soup kitchen has been set up by a Hackney chef wanting to make a difference.

Chef Elaine Chalmers’s initiative, Poot It In Yer Bag, saw her and a team of volunteers preparing meals and generous food parcels to feed Hackney families from the start of January.

The Spurstowe Arms in Dalston offered up its kitchen to support the scheme, run in partnership with Hackney organisation Children With Voices.

“We’ve had amazing donations from Fruve London, Allpress, The Dusty Knuckle, Violet Cakes, Bistrotheque,” said Elaine.

Food parcels include fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as dry goods like pasta, biscuits, snacks, and drinks, all donated by local businesses who might have otherwise have thrown the produce away.

“It’s just quite unbelievable how much wastage there is, so I’m really glad that we can use all of this up,” she said.

Artist and long-time friend of Elaine's, Cate Halpin said: “I got involved because it’s about community action and being part of something.

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"We are responsible. We’ve got to be responsible for feeding people.”

Founder of Children With Voices, Michelle Dornelly, with chef Elaine Chalmers.

Founder of Children With Voices, Michelle Dornelly, with chef Elaine Chalmers. - Credit: Courtesy of Elaine Chalmers

Even before the pandemic, Hackney had the third highest child poverty rate in the UK, according to a Child Poverty Action Group study, and this has only worsened over the course of 2020.

Elaine and her group were inspired to act by anger and frustration at the current situation, and by Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign.

“Let’s face it, the government isn’t going to do it,” she said.  

At a time of increased isolation and its profound impact on mental health, the initiative aims to make people feel good.

“It’s just nice to eat something that someone else has cooked for you,” said Cate.

According to Cate, Poot It in Yer Bag has given people in the catering industry, who currently find themselves without work, a real sense of purpose.

Elaine said: “It’s great to do something that’s meaningful. Right now, everybody needs that. I feel really blessed in a way, in the sense of just reaching out and people giving back and being so positive.”

Donations are accepted at the Spurstowe on Saturdays between 12 and 2pm.

Visitors can also donate money via Poot It In Yer Bag’s Instagram page.