A primary school teacher has saved thousands of pounds by buying reduced-price food – and said that she’s bought 60,000 items in the past 19 months.
Deborah Doloughan, 41, was disgusted by the amount of food thrown away when she worked as a chef at a fast-food restaurant in 1999, and she was inspired.
Since then the mum-of-four has been passionate about fighting needless waste, and she’s spent the past two decades searching out yellow-sticker bargains.
Now, with the help of her husband James Doloughan, 43, a carer, and four children, Millie, 11, Jacob, 10, Luke, seven, and Isaiah, one, Deborah, of Middlesbrough, Tyne and Wear, collects the food and gives it to those in need, through the app Olio.
Deborah said: “I became so passionate about food waste and shopping in the reduced section that my friends started calling me the Whoopsie Queen.
“Now I feel like joining the Olio app and making sure as much food doesn’t go to waste has been my calling.
“Also, it means my whole family can join in with my passion. “
On top of her full-time job as a primary school teacher, Deborah spends five nights each week collecting surplus food from her local supermarket, before snapping pictures of it and listing it on the app – eagerly waiting for people to come by and pick it up.
She said: “My children have been assisting me by collecting the food with me and getting pictures of it sorted, so people can see what we have.
“One of my sons has made friends with a lovely old lady and they exchange flowers and chocolate, which is just gorgeous.
“For me, that’s so important and I want to instil these values in my children.”
With food prices soaring, as the country faces the highest inflation in 40 years, Deborah says more people than ever have dropped by her home to collect free goods.
She said: “I have noticed a massive influx of new people, as I know the regulars and I know their names.
“But with the food price crisis, more and more people are relying on services like this.
“I have had messages from people asking if they’ll be considered for a donut as they have seven children, and it’s really quite heartbreaking.
“I have seen so many people who rely on the free food.
“One Friday I didn’t collect any as I was at a party and the next week a woman came to me and asked me why I wasn’t there.
“That was going to be her family’s food for the next few days.”
When Deborah’s interest in the food waste app was piqued by a social media post in November 2020, she discovered she had to complete a six hour training course to qualify as a food waste hero – which she aced on her first attempt.
She said: “I was excited, as their mission is to end food waste, which felt like something I would have invented if I was business minded.”
Her first haul was a “baptism of fire,” according to Deborah, as she pulled in roughly 200 items, which included sandwiches, butter, milk, yoghurt and vegetables.
Anxious about wasting the food if no one came to claim it, she knocked on 20 neighbours’ doors in her quiet cul-de-sac and, by the end of the night, a dozen had signed up.
She said: “It was tricky, as Olio had only just started taking off, so initially I was panicked because I had all these items.
“I was so anxious, I went to all of my neighbours and left leaflets, as well as telling everyone in my family.
“About 12 people joined that night and requested food, so it all went.
“That first night was a baptism of fire, as I didn’t know what to expect.
“It was a bit overwhelming, but it was a great learning curve.”
Plain sailing ever since, Deborah feels she has now got her role down to a fine art.
On five nights a week she heads to the supermarket at 8.30pm, then she goes home with the food she collects and gets it photographed and listed on the app ready for punters to knock on her door by 9.30pm – with her children and her husband all helping to give it out.
She said: “I am a teacher and that’s so important, but reducing food waste is really important too. It’s my labour of love.
“I treat it really seriously, because it’s a cause that is close to my heart.
“As soon as I did that first night I knew this was what I needed to do – and my husband could see my reignited spark.
“He was very confused about what it was all about, but he saw how obsessed I was about it and he knew how important it was to me.”
After items are collected from the supermarket, people have until midnight to pick them up so as to comply with Food Standards Agency (FSA) regulations.
Deborah is keen to dispel any stigma regarding food nearing its expiry date, as it is still fresh and just cheaper or, in this case, it is free.
She said: “A lot of people think that reduced section food is less good, or it will make you sick.
“But it is still in date and it means you get to try new things.
“I made a vegetarian mince once because it was there and it was lovely.
“It opens up a world of opportunities.”
Deborah has saved 60,000 items from being binned so far – 33,000 through Olio a further 27,000 through her school using the FareShare app, where they redistribute surplus food to charities and schools that turn it into meals.
And she has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Not only does she have the satisfaction of knowing she has made a difference, she says the venture has also made her closer to her neighbours.
She said: “It’s become part of my social life as well, because I have made friends with so many people who are doing the same thing.
“I have lived in a cul-de-sac for five years and never knew my neighbours.
“Now I know exactly what kind of bread their children like. Food has brought us together.”
Another perk, according to Deborah, is that food waste heroes are allowed to take 10 per cent of the food collected on any given night – meaning she has not needed to buy bread, milk, fruit or vegetables since she became one.
She said: “If there are 200 items you can keep 20 and it does make an impact on the food shop, as I normally pick bread, milk, fruit and vegetables.”
Deborah now hopes to inspire more people to join the app, to help in the battle against food waste and to help other members of their community.
She said: “It’s a really fantastic way to help the planet and help others.”