Aina Omo-Bare welcomes everyone at Idia’s Kitchen. Three times a week Aina cooks for up to 40 people at St Monica’s RC Church in Hoxton with the support of local businesses and Catholic charity Caritas Westminster in the UK. The food, which is free to anyone who needs it, is helping to reduce food waste and bring people together into a supportive community where lives can be changed.
Aina is well known in the Catholic community of St Monica’s and the wider area. The idea for Idia’s Kitchen, which is named after Aina’s late daughter, came to Aina after she saw food wasted at the college kitchen where she worked as a chef until December last year.
Aina began using food that would have been binned and cooked and distributed it at St Monica’s parish hall. The project quickly grew and came to the attention of Caritas Westminster, who helped Aina find new sources of food and funding. This included linking her with Hackney Council’s food distribution scheme and the Gubay Foundation, who provided a grant of £1000.
One customer, Dave*, told us that he values the fact that he can get a hot drink without paying £2 or more in a café. ‘There are people from all walks of life here. It’s not just about the food, it’s also about the social interaction.’
During lockdown, Aina kept Idia’s Kitchen open, serving food outside for people to take away. The kitchen was temporarily based at the Shoreditch Trust Healthy Living Centre, just around the corner from St Monica’s Church. This venue offered a suitable open space where customers could keep socially distant but still spend some time together.
Now that the Shoreditch Trust has resumed its own services, Aina is back at the parish center and Caritas Westminster is helping her arrange a new storage facility, working with Hackney council to find a space for this.
Minet Masho, Caritas Westminster’s Development worker in East London said:
‘From the beginning, I was struck by Aina’s passion for food and feeding the marginalized and disadvantaged in our communities.’ Minet is helping Aina with long-term planning and has linked her with a mentor who is helping to register Idia’s Kitchen as a charity.
One customer told us that Aina cooks, ‘the best food in the East End, done with caring hands’. But food is only part of what is on offer. Idia’s kitchen is a place where people can find temporary escape from their daily anxieties or from damaging relationships. Another customer, Danielle*, said: ‘Some people come here unhappy and leave happy… there’s a community. I’ve made lots of friends and it has enabled me not to be around certain other people.’
Aina once invited a passing city worker to share the food. Minet said: ‘It seems that he needed the socializing and liked the company as he chatted away with the customers. A few days later he came back with a pair of boots to give to one of the customers he had been chatting to. The welcome provided by Idia’s Kitchen can sometimes have unexpected consequences.’
Aina has around 24 volunteers who help to provide cooked meals three times a week, as well as breakfast takeaways every day and ad-hoc meals to local hostels and shelters.
One volunteer, Hannah, told us: ‘Aina is an amazing person with admirable dedication and her story is what makes me want to be part of this cause.’
Minet describes Aina as ‘a mother figure and a pillar of the community. I am in awe of her energy and enthusiasm.’
Aina herself shared this quote from St Teresa of Calcutta that inspires her: ‘It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.’
* Interviewees’ names have been changed.