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Cocoa crowned 'Changemaker' for feeding people and fighting poverty

Inspirational Cocoa Fowler has joined Marcus Rashford and many more to be listed as one of the Big Issue's top 100 'Changemakers for 2021' for his tireless efforts to help feed people during the pandemic.
Cocoa Fowler has set up Food for Nought after personal battles with homelessness and health issues to help the community (Photo: Supplied)

The special edition of the magazine shines a light on the most innovative, creative and righteous people and groups who carried their communities through the challenges of 2020. 

In Cocoa's case that meant continuing the work of his charity Food for Nought, while also battling Covid-19 himself, in 2020. 

Cocoa, who is popularly known as the 'man with a van', was raised in the care system, but left school in 1983 to serve in the Royal Artillery; he was a gunner for 15 years before leaving the army to set up his own business overseas. In 2005, he went to Sri Lanka to volunteer with the tsunami relief effort. 

And when he returned to the UK, struggling so much with physical and mental health issues that he became homeless, it was an opportunity to become a volunteer driver with a food charity that gave him hope again. 

Since 2017, Cocoa's Peterborough-based charity Food for Nought has delivered 1200 tonnes of surplus food from local farmers and supermarkets to community projects that tackle food poverty in Peterborough. Food banks, community fridges and hostels gladly accept these donations - that would otherwise have gone to landfill - and distribute them to people in need. 

Cocoa says that now the Christmas rush is over, the charity will still depend on people’s generosity and support throughout 2021. 

With a team of trustees and the help of chairman Neil Crowson, Food for Nought have made a real impact in the city with only a few second hand vans and no premises to speak of. 

Cocoa said he is over the moon for being recognised but disappointed for not being offered any government help, despite his hard work for the last four years. 

This year has been extremely challenging for him as the demand for his services reached new heights, but also on a personal level he battled Covid and has bounced back to doing what he does best- helping others. Despite Cocoa being in hospital, the work didn't stop. Food for Nought continued to organise deliveries to make sure that those in need were supported. 

Speaking to Peterborough Matters, Cocoa said: “I’m over the moon for me and my team, but still upset that we are not getting the support from the local or national government. I started this nearly 4 years ago because I needed help myself when I was at rock bottom. 

“In 2021 we have so many plans again depending on what funding we can get. We have a plan to open a centre with a kitchen and storage with fridge and freezer space.  During this period of Covid-19, we have seen a massive increase in what we do and must get help to make this happen, helping the community is easy when you open your eyes and see how much need there is.  

“You ask how I having been doing this despite being ill - It has affected me personally. I can only say like many others I am very tired and hope I can keep going.” 

Organisations such as Paston Farm Community Foundation, Millfield Community Fridge and many more have been very appreciative of Cocoa's help in helping feed people through the food he delivers. 

Stewart Howe from the Yaxley, Farcet & North Hunts Covid-19 support network said it’s a ‘well deserved’ recognition for Cocoa. 

Cocoa's Christmas Appeal aims to raise money to help keep Food for Nought going. Maintaining and fuelling the ageing vehicles is a struggle with so little funding available, and finding a premises would allow the charity to scale up and store more food for distribution. 

JustGiving page has been set up to collect donations. More information about Food for Nought can be found on its website

The Big Issue organisation said: “The Big Issue is celebrating the top 100 Changemakers of 2021 – the innovators, creators and radical thinkers who achieved remarkable things during the pandemic to make the world a better place, and those who will help keep others afloat in another difficult year. 

“This first instalment shines a light on the battle to end poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic caused UK poverty to skyrocket as thousands were made redundant, placed on the furlough scheme and had their incomes cut. It meant households across the country were plunged into an already accelerating deprivation crisis. 

“But determined people and groups dedicated their energy to putting poverty on the news agenda, making sure no one in their community went hungry, and providing support for already vulnerable populations who found themselves locked out of services under coronavirus restrictions. They will be key in the fight to end poverty in 2021.” 

You can find the list of changemakers here