One of the goals of Remote Year is to give back to the various communities that we visit. We aim to have a positive impact by making an effort to leave the city a better place than it was before we arrived, however slightly that may be. One of the ways this is done is by reaching out to local non-profits or volunteer-based organizations and establishing a partnership for the time that we are in the city.
Refood is a food bank that was launched in Lisbon over 5 years ago. They work with local restaurants and grocery stores who donate leftover food at the end of the day. Every night from Monday to Friday, 2 teams of 2 to 3 people set out on a pre-determined schedule to visit the establishments that have arranged for pickups that night. The food is collected and taken to the Refood headquarters for storage. The following day the food is divided up and made ready for collection by the individuals and families who come by the facility to pick up the food.
There are two types of shifts available to Remote Year volunteers – food collection and food sorting. Each shift is 2 hours and it’s up to the volunteer to sign up for the shift of their choosing. Last week I signed up for a food collection shift. After an introduction to the program from Marisa, one of the regular volunteers, 3 of us set out with our list of restaurants, a couple of wheeled dollies and customized bicycle with extra storage to transport the food. We visited a varied list of establishments – a traditional Portuguese restaurant, a sandwich shop, a bakery and place that specializes in (the very Portueguese!) cod fritters. The food was taken back to the headquarters, packed up into containers and stored in fridges for sorting and distribution the following day.
The Refood headquarters is in a donated space in the centre of Lisbon. While they’ve only been in the current location a couple of months, they already have enough restaurants and supermarkets enlisted to require collection for 4 to 6 hours each day. According to Marissa, if there were more volunteers, they would be able to count on additional restaurants to contribute on a regular basis. Approximately 230 individuals use the service on a regular basis. As long as the door is open, anyone can come and ask for food; no one gets turned away.
While I volunteered my time periodically prior to joining Remote Year, it was never something I had committed to on a regular basis. With one entire month in each city that we visit, there will be a good opportunity to donate some time in order to support a local cause. Quite often when people travel, they tend to see a city through the eyes of a tourist rather than appreciate it for the challenges it may face as a society. With a conscious effort, it’s easy to make a positive impact. A little really does go a long way.