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How one not-for-profit is ending hunger for disadvantaged Aussie school kids

As a charitable Australian organisation tackling food poverty in school children, Eat Up is fast becoming a household name. Lyndon Galea, founder and CEO of Eat Up shares his experience in transforming a fantastic idea into a successful organisation that is delivering on its promises to end hunger for school kids, one sandwich at a time.

Q: What is your career background and can you explain your current role? 

A: I’m the Founder and CEO of a non-profit organisation called Eat Up, a charitable organisation feeding hungry, disadvantaged school kids. Eat Up operates from the support of three pillars – our volunteers, bulk delivery and daily distribution of sandwiches.

I started Eat Up when I was in uni, but before that I worked at Triple J magazine and then I founded X Magazine,  a series of seasonal street magazines for regional towns that targeted young people and demonstrated the work of young creatives (writers, photographers, musicians) who lived in these areas. I also spent two years working with OzHarvest, which really helped me develop the skills needed to manage a not-for-profit organisation. 

My days at Eat Up are incredibly varied, which I really enjoy. There’s no such thing as a ‘regular workday’ around here. However, my days will generally involve sandwich making, meeting with the team or partners, and then doing deliveries. These various elements of my job are all completely different, but really enjoyable and fulfilling.  

Q: What drove you to address this particular social issue?  

A: In 2013 I was living in my hometown of Shepparton and I read a story in the paper about how 1 in 8 local kids were going to school without lunch. I quickly enlisted the help of my mum and a couple of mates and we made 200 sandwiches to drop off at these schools. That’s where it all started! 

Q: How did you transfer Eat Up from a great idea to a bustling, volunteer driven organisation? 

A: In the 7 years since we made our first sandwich, Eat Up has grown into a fully fledged charity and we now service 500 schools across Victoria, NSW and QLD and most recently in 2021 the NT and WA. In December we hit a major milestone of delivering our 1 millionth sandwich. 

Up until this point, growth has been fairly organic. The biggest step was honestly just starting out and from there, growth has been less led by me personally and more from the growing awareness and need as we started to realise the issue wasn’t limited to the schools we were working with. One school would kind of evolve into another nearby and so on. Each step would organically evolve from there. Support from the broader community, particularly in local areas has also been essential to this growth. Once we had a more established operations model and became aware of the national need, we began to take more strategic and impactful steps to amp up our operations and service schools on a national level. 

Growth is always bittersweet at Eat Up, as the bigger we get the more we see the real size of the issue of food insecurity here in Australia. But 2020 opened our minds to the power of changing your outlook. We have been continually problem solving across the country as restrictions have changed and we feel more confident with our team, our community and our connections than ever before.

Q: Given Eat Up is run on a volunteer basis – how do you plan to evolve to become more sustainable? What do you envision in the future for Eat Up? 

A: While volunteers are an absolutely essential part of our organisation, Eat Up employs staff in each of the states that we operate and a small executive team in Melbourne. It’s the core Eat Up team members in each state that allow us to leverage the community and find the volunteer support in all of the areas we reach. They facilitate our sandwich making events and work with volunteers and groups in local areas to find the spaces to host these. This allows us to be a lot more agile, otherwise we would be limited to one local area. 

We don’t consistently work with the same group of volunteers, it really varies across the year. We work a lot with corporates, schools, local community groups and anyone who wants to get involved and are fortunate enough to not ever seem to have a shortage of volunteer helpers. We aim to make working with Eat Up as easy and accessible possible. Our sandwich making events are really fast, fun and high energy with great music. We usually make up to 1000+ sandwiches in under an hour so it doesn’t impact people’s time too much but everyone always leaves having had a really positive experience. 

In the future, we are looking to not only broaden our reach geographically, but also to deepen our reach and get closer to tackling the core problem of food insecurity among kids in Australia. We are very close to reaching broad reach across the country so the next step will be to go deeper. While our sandwiches and lunches offer a good solution, we would love to reduce the number of kids going to school hungry in the first place so that will be the next layer of work we would like to look at. 

Sandwiches are our core lunch offering but we would love to see fresh fruit and recess items become a more consistent inclusion in our lunches. At the moment this is just when we have them available. So we are always working towards building relationships and seeking more funding to make this happen. 

Q: How was Eat Up influenced by COVID-19?

A: 2020 was a tough year for charities and businesses alike and when kids moved into remote learning, Eat Up had to completely change our business model.

Without being able to host volunteer sandwich making events and distribute lunches daily to hungry kids, we had to quickly pivot and find a way to continue supporting families in need. We spoke to schools, teachers and parents to collaboratively find a solution to the unprecedented situation we were facing. 

We soon discovered that families continued to need food relief and created Eat Up Emergency Food Boxes to support them during lockdown. Containing 10kg worth of fresh fruit, vegetables and pantry staples, we delivered our first round of boxes at the end of April. We continued using schools as distribution centres, with parents coming in to pick up the boxes, or in some cases, generous teachers dropping them off to families in need. 

Since then, we have delivered over 20,000 Emergency Food Boxes across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. 

COVID-19 impacted Eat Up in an immense, yet positive, way. Historically, we have had a gap in providing support over non-school periods, as schools closed down we would lose our distribution points. The Christmas and summer break used to stop us from feeding hungry kids for weeks on end. Moving forward, we will continue to provide these Food Boxes and will be able to better support families over school holidays and any remote learning periods. 

Q: How can people get involved ie volunteer, business partnership? 

A: There are plenty of ways people can get involved! Individuals can come along to one of our public sandwich-making events. These are fun, fast and very productive — we’re talking 5,000-sandwiches-in-an-hour productive. You can come along on your own, or with family and/or friends. Kids under 12 are able to volunteer as well, so long as they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information on upcoming events follow Eat Up on Facebook. 

We host sandwich making days for both corporates and schools. For corporates we come to your office and bring all the ingredients and equipment. All we need is an hour or two of your time, around 20 willing sandwich makers and a little space. 

For schools, volunteer sandwich making is a great way for students to tangibly contribute to a very relatable cause. We run on-site sandwich making sessions for students in Grades 6 and upwards. Schools provide the tables, volunteers and a parking space for our refrigerated van – and we’ll bring all of the equipment, ingredients and one of us to set up, pack down and facilitate the event. 

For more information on corporate or school events you can email eatup@eatup.org.au 

Q: How has the success of this not for profit shaped your passion for helping those who are disadvantaged?  

A: I really align with the saying ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’. I find so much fulfilment from the work we do at Eat Up. When you find work that you really enjoy doing, it integrates organically into your everyday life and passions. I’m so thrilled by what we’ve achieved in seven short years with Eat Up, but even more excited by what’s in store for the future of our organisation. 

Founding Eat Up has given me this great sense of belief. To have true impact you need to be able to engage on a broader level across the community and in business. Our success has really come about because so many people have given their time and put up their hand to help and with that you see really amazing things happen. It’s what continues to drive me forward. 

Q: How can schools get involved with the organisation?

A: To determine the schools we work with, we leverage a lot of socio economic data that indicates key areas in each city and state. We’ll look to see where those broader areas are clustered and where there’s a number of schools close together that need support. There is a logistical component to where/ how far we are able to reach in our delivery runs. We have vans operating in each capital city and we usually aim for between 15-20 schools on each delivery run. Geographically we create clusters where schools are concentrated or clustered together so we can be as efficient and reach as many schools as possible. 

There’s certainly schools that contact us and if we can reach them immediately we will, otherwise we work towards a waiting list and this is how we determine opening up new delivery runs as we expand. 

In the regions we will deliver to towns within 1-2 hours of the major cities such as Geelong and Bendigo in VIC and The Central Coast in NSW. For those towns further out, we connect with local community groups such as the rotary club or lions club who will help facilitate delivery runs to the local schools. We also often determine these locations through socio economic data.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Eat Up or getting involved, you can visit their website here.

Read about entrepreneurs like Lyndon here.

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Emily Dobson

Emily Dobson

Emily is a student at Deakin University completing her final year of a Bachelor of Communications degree, majoring in Journalism. She is interested in politics, business and entertainment.

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