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How our biggest supermarket and its shoppers are helping good causes

It's easy to knock the big supermarkets but on the ground they are helping a huge number of charities and good causes across Peterborough and beyond, with help from the public.
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Ejaz at some of the donation points in the store

The Tesco in Serpentine Green has its own Community Programme in Peterborough, benefiting a wide range of groups.

"As they should," many will say, but I was surprised by the sheer breadth of clubs, groups and people that benefit from it when I went to meet Tesco Community Champion Ejaz Moghul.

The community area is not being used at the moment -  the Alice in Wonderland area, as Ejaz describes it - and has mainly become a storage area.

But the notice board outside still tells the story of the community groups that used it for free several times a day, everything from counselling services to charities to a bike club for toddlers to Cambridgeshire County carshare scheme.

As of yet there is no date for it to reopen, with Tesco head office prioritising safety across 90 similar areas across the UK.

I had been past it thousands of times to use the toilets without even realising it existed. It actually has its own toilets and baby changing areas.

If and when it does reopen, and many of the groups that used it have inquired, Ejaz has an idea for a new addition.

He said: "I want to set up a gaming club, for board games and video games, and model toy painting, especially for dads and their kids.

"I'm a dad and fully involved; there's not a lot for dads that I feel is giving them the time to be themselves, and be kids themselves almost, without any pressures. I think it could work well and would appeal to a wide range of skill sets, and not get people glued to a tablet.

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"As well as that, I want it to return to being an area for the community. We want this to benefit and support people again."

Near the door is a poster which states that the equivalent of 154,000 fresh meals have been donated to people who need them through the FareShare tie-up starting in 2016, although the number since the poster was created is now higher.

This comprises of meals that were unsold, with FareShare managing allocation and distribution. 

One such group is Stanground Academy, which uses food to feed children at breakfast clubs, with any excess cooked and turned into pies and meals, which is then frozen and sold at charity events.

"It's phenomenal, and really using food well and not wasting it. They've shown us the figures and they've raised thousands since receiving food from here.

"It's a really good programme when it's done well."

Elsewhere, Tesco also donates food to the Foodbank collection tin, where shoppers and staff can donate non-fresh items for the larder, purchased from any store. Anything placed is then weighed, and topped up by Tesco by 20% on a cost per kilo basis.  

The collection point is emptied three times a week, but  sadly during Covid people were taking items themselves, without it reaching the Foodbank first. I've had to increase the number of times a week I empty it. 

"We felt that the reason people were taking it wasn't because of food poverty, and I did everything I could to address it, by leaving messages and so on. But they were picking out the high-value items.

"This is the nature of how people are. Some people take opportunities like those."

Near the foodbank collection point is the Community Grants scheme, where shoppers can help choose how much three community causes proportionally receive. 

It emerged from what was formerly called Bags of Help, which came about through the government-introduced plastic bag charge to reduce waste. That money is pooled, and then donated as £500, £1,000 or £1,5000 to the three causes, depending on which gets the most tokens per quarter.

Ejaz said: "There is a process where groups will go to our website and write up what their project is, and what they're trying to do. We filter out the ones that don't fit because the criteria is quite strict. 

"This quarter we are focusing on young people and food poverty. We as a grocer deal with food and understand the tight margins, but what we don't understand is why so many children are going hungry.

"They can't go out and work, so what can we do - the way to do it is through helping community groups such as these, and that means knowing about them."

The store also gets the chance to nominate causes itself, perhaps as a kickstarter project, to ge through to the three.

Ejaz said: "Recently Whittlesey Street Pride wanted to commemorate the Women's Land Army; these were people who hadn't been recognised historically,

"It wouldn't fit under any of the usual categories, but it was a sound good project and embedded in the community, so we nominated them."

The store is also donating to the Light Project with a huge number of items - typically end of the line products - that have been donated for Afghan refugees, such as food tray platters from Yo Sushi, sweets, sauces, bottled water, cleaning products, sanitary products, and more. 

Ejaz said: "I also get a small amount of funding each quarter for groups that don't fit the community grant scheme. On things like this, we will buy best value products and there we are.

"At Christmas 2019 we had massive amounts of flour, which we gave out to Light Project, Family Voice and others - which was then given out to the community."