The charity making meal times better

While a Christmas feast with all the trimmings is a given for many, Jim Mullan is helping feed Australian families less fortunate through the charity SecondBite, in partnership with Coles. 

Steven Cain and Jim Mullan standing with a secondbite team member

Coles CEO Steven Cain, SecondBite Co-founder Simone Carson and SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan

Having grown up in a working-class Scottish family Jim Mullan knows only too well how challenging it can be to feed a large family on a limited budget.

As a child in Glasgow during the 1980s Mr Mullan watched his mother stretch the weekly housekeeping to provide wholesome meals for her husband and their five offspring.

“My father was a train driver and my mother was a housewife,” he recalls. “I have a recollection of my mother going through countless loaves of white bread and bottles of milk – everything else could be padded out by having those two staples in the house.”

Although their diet was simple – as he later discovered on school trips to Europe – Mr Mullan has fond memories of family gatherings around the dinner table and, as a special treat, take-away fish and chips, something of a Glaswegian tradition.

“My memories of meal-times are all happy – about us being together as kids and enjoying family time,” he says.

As the Chief Executive Officer of SecondBite, a Melbourne-based charity that distributes unwanted food to around 1000 welfare organisations across the country, Mr Mullan is acutely aware that food insecurity is a growing issue for many families in Australia today.

“Historically the [government] supplied free milk, school meals, milk tokens and food vouchers,” he explains. “In the absence of the state it falls to charities such as SecondBite to fill that need and ensure that food gets to those who need it most.”

Mr Mullan says that SecondBite’s close relationship with Coles plays a crucial role in helping to access much-needed fruit and vegetables for the family table, but also in diverting this valuable produce from ending up in “a hole in the ground”.

“Coles donates unsold, edible food from more than 786 stores and distribution centres across the country, and it also makes a valuable intellectual contribution to our operations,” he says. “And on a personal level, Coles has taught me everything I know about food risk.”

Founded in 2005 by Ian and Simone Carson who collected unwanted food from the markets in their station wagon, SecondBite is now one of the largest charities of its type in Australia – last year it diverted over 25 million kilograms of food waste from landfill.

Prior to joining SecondBite, Mr Mullan was the chief executive officer of UK street newspaper The Big Issue but began his career as the founder of a Scottish social enterprise called Kibbleworks which creates employment opportunities for young people.

Mr Mullan says that a working-class upbringing in Glasgow shaped his own understanding of social justice and an ongoing commitment to helping those who are no longer protected by central government or traditional church welfare agencies.

“I grew up in one of the poorest parts of my home city and when I was growing up, my real heroes were youth workers and social workers who provided out of school opportunities for young people,” he says. “They provided, I think in lots of cases for the young people they dealt with, hope where none existed.”

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