Plan Zheroes: tackling hunger with tech

“When we started up we heard about a woman who was living below the breadline. She had three children, and she had to decide which of the children would receive a hot meal in the evening,” says Chris Wilkie, co-founder of Plan Zheroes.

“We knew that a hundred yards away there was a supermarket throwing perfectly good food away. And we thought this is just a crazy situation.”

Set up in 2011 by a small group of London Citizens, planZheroes (pronounced ‘plan zeros’, or ‘plan z heroes’ – they’re not too fussy about this) is a cyber-powered antidote to the gaping disparity between people going hungry, and food going to waste.

Based in Kings Cross, its key function is to digitally link up shops and restaurants with surplus food to charities who distribute it.

A registered charity, it is innovative and fresh – both in its inventive use of an interactive map, and its core values. Almost uniquely, it aims to be apolitical, non-commercial and non-critical.

New platform: the planZheroes map connects businesses, charities and volunteers to make sure surplus food gets to the people who need it.
New platform: the planZheroes map helps connect businesses with surplus food to the charities and people that need it.

“Essentially we put [businesses and charities together], we introduce them, and we help to maintain the relationship,” co-founder Chris Wilkie tells me.

“It’s about collaboration not competition. [The food charities are] all competing for funding, but we’re all working towards the same goal.”

The group launched its new website at the end of January, three years after the first one was born. It comes complete with an updated interactive map that allows businesses to create a profile, and upload information about leftover food as and when it’s available.

Charities also create their own profiles about the kind of food they need. They’re then able to see the food up for grabs, and can claim it on a ‘first come first served’ basis.

This means getting volunteers on the ground to transport the goods, as charities and businesses often don’t have the manpower.

The new platform, created pro bono by technology consultancy Keytree, will also enable the group to automatically track much more accurately how much food is being moved, and the businesses that are most active.

Borough Market: where it all began for planZheroes. Photo: Chris Lumb
Borough Market: where it all began for Plan Zheroes. Photo: Chris Lumb

Plan Zheroes also works with chefs and nutritionists, helping charities to organise cookery classes, which help the people involved tackle the –often-unpredictable – surplus food that is offered to them.

“The problem is that you never really know what you’re going to get. It could be twenty artichokes,” says Chris.

“What do you do with twenty artichokes? If you don’t know then they’ll go to waste. It’s frustrating.”

The group have helped coordinate cookery lessons at charities like The Marylebone Project, which helps vulnerable homeless women.

Plan Zheroes are still keen to expand in London – they currently have around 100 organisations on their books. But the ultimate goal is to establish more networks like the ones growing in the capital, across the country.

“There is more food going to waste than there are people going hungry. We can’t get the stats, but I know it’s true. I just know it.”

Check back next week for the extended audio interview with co-founder Chris Wilkie.

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