Food for All, Literally!

Because no-one in Switzerland should be hungry.

March 2020, the pandemic started and many of us faced uncertainties such as: would we keep our jobs, get Kurzarbeit, or would we have to file for unemployment? Could we still meet our friends and family, or should we stay in? However, there were many others in the city who had even bigger worries. With a country-wide lock-down, churches closed and soup-kitchens had to cancel their events. Many people rely on these charities, every day.

That is when Amine Diane Conde started his charity organization Essen für Alle (literally translated as “Food for All”). Amine, being a former refugee himself, knows what it means to be hungry. He told me in our interview that he experienced hunger while traveling through Morocco, during his trip from his hometown in Guinea to Zurich. From that moment on he knew; no-one should ever go through anything like that. 

When the pandemic reached Zurich, he approached big supermarkets and food suppliers and started to hand out food to those in need. From potatoes and onions to soft-drinks and chocolate, but also fruits and vegetables, flour and rice, and sometimes meat or vegetarian spreads. Of course, every week the available products depend on the gifts they receive, but after their one-year anniversary last week, they revealed to have saved 1950 tons of food from being thrown away, while providing 50,000 families with their weekly supplies. 

They stand in line for 2 hours; come rain, come shine.

So, you might wonder ‘who are the people that come and get their food’? Actually, everyone is welcome to come and pick up food: just come to Hohlstrasse 420 on a Saturday between 11:00 and 17:00, register, and receive the groceries. Amine and his crew don’t want to restrict this, because: “If you are willing to stand 1 or 2 hours in line to come and pick up food, you must have a reason for it. Many of these people don’t have a permit to live and work in Switzerland (yet). They live from 8,50 CHF a day, some with families – big or small. Often, they are waiting for their permit, not able to earn any more money. When you don’t have money to go to the supermarket, and you can’t get food from a church or other charities, you will have to start stealing to feed your family”. Exactly that is what Amine wants to prevent, by providing people with at least the basics to get through the week. By doing so, the organization helps around 700-1000 families every week – depending on the weather conditions. 

© Pictures by the author – Louise Koeckhoven

Where the food comes from.

“On average we have 17 to 25 tons of food every Saturday. Some deliver every week, some every month, some only rarely”. Essen für Alle’s logistics coordinator Dejan Popovic says: “The biggest suppliers know how much they can offer 2 days in advance and inform us. In the beginning, we always had to be there when they delivered, but now they know their way and we arrive here to see pallets and pallets full of food.” He joined the organization’s crew after helping a few times. Now he is the one everyone comes to with questions like “We still have 5 pallets of bread, how much do we give to everyone?”. Because yes, they want to distribute the groceries in the best way, so that even the ones coming in the 5 o’clock slot will still have enough food. 

Many of the things provided still look great, don’t have flaws, and are not older than their due date. “A lot of the companies we work with, guarantee that if you buy their product it is still good for at least 30 days. After that, they cannot sell it anymore” explains Dejan. That’s how perfectly-good products, which are still good for 2 or 3 weeks, end up at Essen für Alle’s tables. 

Do you want to help out? 

Intrigued by the concept and want to be part of it? There are many ways to do so. You could donate money, which will be used to buy some of the supplies, food, and rent. Another option is to become a part of the group of 600 volunteers and help with either sorting or handing out the food on a Saturday (done with as many Corona-safety measures as possible). And last but not least: food donations are always welcome. For more information on donating or signing up to help, please visit their website: www.essen-fü

Speaking from my own experience, helping out on a Saturday gives so much. It makes you feel useful in these weary days. You meet new and inspiring people, you do something good for others, you see the direct impact you can make and it gives you a massive reality check. Finally, a major benefit for me was that I could finally practice my German skills again (even though any language is welcome!).

Visit their website, donate, sign up and join. Let’s ensure together that no-one in Switzerland is hungry anymore!

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026;