Profile: First Person special:

Food Bank seventh anniversary

by Robin Aitken MBE

Back in 2009, like most of us, I was pretty innocent about food waste.

Of course, like most people, I knew that a lot of food in our super-affluent society is thrown away. But I knew it in the sense that someone might know. without ever having been there, that the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. It's only when you stand there on the rim of that huge gouge in the earth's crust that the reality hits home. This is big. And that's how it was for me when we started collecting surplus food from a supermarket to begin the work of the Oxford Food Bank.

There were just a handful of us in the spring of 2009; myself, David Cairns, and a few others.

We had inherited the idea of a food rescue operation that would give food to charities by a committee that had been struggling to make it happen. And I remember that first morning when we went to the big Sainsburys' store in Kidlington and picked up our first car-load of bread, cakes, fruit, and vegetables, thinking this might actually work. Because it was at that moment that the reality of food waste in our society hit home: every day tons of food, perfectly edible, good, wholesome food is thrown away. And there was a magical simplicity in the idea that we could collect that food and give it to people in need.

The food industry doesn't like to advertise its food waste. They know it's wrong – and it costs them money. I don't blame the industry, however. I believe, it is we, collectively as consumers, who create food waste. It is our insistence that we should always be able to buy the freshest loaf, unblemished apples, or raspberries in December that has shaped and stimulated our hugely sophisticated and complex food industry. And, as in any industry, precisely matching supply and demand is impossible and, because they don't like to disappoint us, there's a little bit of excess in the system.

That's where the Oxford Food Bank comes in.

What the Food Bank does is fill a tiny gap in the food logistics supply chain. Before we came on the scene our big suppliers – like Fresh Direct of Bicester – had no productive means of getting rid of their excess food and had to throw it away. But then one of their managers – Mike Hirons – heard about us, gave me a ring and we started to collect serious quantities of excellent fresh food on a daily basis. It was the start of a rapid expansion.

Back in 2009, we just used our own cars but when we started to tell people what we were doing and asking for a bit of money the response was immediate and generous. Within a few months we had a van, then a local businessman offered us an old warehouse scheduled for redevelopment which gave us a base, and then in 2011 the Gannet Foundation (the charitable arm of the owners of this newspaper) gave us £10,000 to buy a walk-in chiller and, suddenly, we were in business. It helped that, until 18 months ago were were entirely voluntary. That kept our costs very low and it also bred an esprit de corps that is the essence of the whole operation.

David Cairns and I were both agreed on aims and ideals. We decided from the outset that no charity would ever be charged for the food we delivered to them. We also decided that we would never turn away any bona fide charity that asked for food and we were further agreed that the OFB should be paid for by Oxford people. To this day we have never received a penny piece from government – national or local. It's been a winning formula. We now give food to more than 60 charities in Oxford, Bicester, Abingdon and Didcot.

We have more than 100 active volunteers, four vans, two big chillers and our warehouse depot in Botley. And the value of the food we give away has steadily risen; we reckon that last year we provided £1.5 million worth of food aid to local charities. And every £1 they save on their food budget is a pound they can spend elsewhere.

Since we started we estimate we have saved local charities about £5 million in food costs.

We serve every type of charity: mental health, homelessness, asylum seekers, womens' refuges. They all get fresh fruit, vegetables, bakery and dairy products delivered to their door by our cheerful, committed and public-spirited volunteers. But our costs have risen; we now employ two part-time organisers to cope with our increasingly complex operation.

Even so our entire budget this year will be less than £70,000. But seventy grand is not nothing and so – dear reader – if you've got this far and feel you'd like to support us we can promise you your money will be used to good effect.

Any donation is welcome, but standing orders for small amounts are particularly useful providing as they do a base-line income we can rely upon to keep the operation going.

I know Oxford is a generous city: please keep on supporting your food bank.

Donations can be sent to Oxford Food Bank , Unit 12 Curtis Yard Industrial Estate, Oxford OX20LX. Or paid into our bank account sort code 40-26-31 acc. Number 61445057