‘Students for Food’ does not, as one may initially expect, refer to the gaggles of weary-eyed or partied-out youths waiting for their Hassan’s; it is an emerging social enterprise led by Sebastian Lyons and Patrick Mayhew. These two New College students want to expand their college-based initiative which takes leftover food from hall to the homeless population. They currently hope to spread ‘Students for Food’ to the wider university community and, in due course, to universities nationwide.

Originating from ‘Curry Runners’, which operates out of New College for now, the initiative was founded in 2018 with three main goals. Firstly, to reduce food waste from college halls in a sustainability push. Secondly, to support the homeless and other vulnerable people in the community. Finally, to help engage students in their new local area and prevent the ‘town vs. gown’ tensions between the intermittent student populations and permanent local residents. Currently, the team works through informal distributions on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights. They collect leftover meals from the hall, facilitated by the college staff. Volunteers then complete a route around the city centre offering the hot meals to people sleeping rough. Last year a total of 622 meals were distributed. 

Under the leadership of Sebastian and Patrick, ‘Curry Runners’ is evolving into ‘Students for Food’. Influenced by the charity Greater Change, founded by two Oxford alumni, the students endeavoured to formalise their work. However, as a conversation with Sebastian revealed, there are numerous obstacles to tackle in setting up a charity which would hinder the momentum of the initiative. Therefore, as of November 2023, Students for Food became a registered social enterprise under Oxford City Council, rather than a charity. As part of this evolution, the movement seeks to work with the wider community, crucially with the help of other Oxford colleges. They seek to work with other vulnerable populations, not just the homeless, and this would be helped by the charity Oxford Homelessness Movement who are attempting to coordinate the various schemes to concentrate help. Distribution would also be outsourced to companies such as Olio and Too Good To Go. With NHS England recognising a rise in hospital admissions for cases of malnutrition in Oxford, this expansion could not come soon enough. 

The Oxford Blue interviewed Wadham College Student Union’s Charities Officer Eleanor Miller on her thoughts about the feasibility of creating a university-wide initiative of this kind. Miller believes that this proposition would not only be possible but advisable. She discussed the existence of a similar initiative called ‘Food Rescuers’, run out of Wadham, that likewise utilised student volunteers to distribute leftover meals to those living on the streets and distributed 318 meals last term. She said that integrating these similar initiatives and spreading it across colleges would help more equally divide the volunteers needed, ensuring that the maximum number of people were receiving meals, and widening the scope of the initiative past just central Oxford. If many colleges were involved, she said, it may be easier to get more volunteers, if they knew that they would only have to be involved in certain days of the week, for example. Moreover, in widening the scope of the initiative, Miller believes that aiding vulnerable families and providing more than just food, perhaps clothing as well, to those sleeping rough could become a reality. 

With the help of more colleges and charity engagement, Students for Food, the non-funded and non-spending enterprise, is set to be a widespread force for good. Currently only officially working with St. Catherine’s College, the initiative is keen for more engagement in the coming months and years. 

If you would like to reach out to Sebastian and Patrick for more information or to help join the enterprise, you can contact them at support@studentsforfood.org.