The volunteers delivering 3,000 hot meals to families in need this Christmas

R-L: Hot meals programme volunteers Simran, Anmol, Sheena, Nilesh, Rabir, Hemal, Kuda and Caroline.

R-L: Hot meals programme volunteers Simran, Anmol, Sheena, Nilesh, Rabir, Hemal, Kuda and Caroline. - Credit: Daniel Gayne

Chief executives and under-privileged young people have come together in the kitchen to make food for families in need this Christmas. 

Over this festive period, community interest company icanyoucantoo will deliver roughly 3,000 hot meals to families across Havering from its hub in Olive Academy, Hornchurch. 

While initially focused on a grassroots mentoring and coaching programme to support less privileged young people attain the career of their dreams, the non-profit has added humanitarian projects to its mission since the start of the coronavirus crisis. 

Food packages ready for delivery to families.

Food packages ready for delivery to families. - Credit: Daniel Gayne

In the first summer of the pandemic, it partnered with Neighbourly and The Hygiene Bank to deliver surplus food and sanitary products across east London, Essex and Kent, and last Christmas it organised its first hot meals programme inspired by Marcus Rashford’s campaign. 

This year’s programme will support 200 people across nearly 50 families in Havering, with hot meals, food and sanitary products as well as Christmas presents. 

It worked with six schools and a women’s refuge to identify people in need of support. 

L-R: Kitchen volunteers Alan, Tom, Siyani, Amy, David, Meena and Felicity.

L-R: Kitchen volunteers Alan, Tom, Siyani, Amy, David, Meena and Felicity. - Credit: Daniel Gayne

Over the festive period, it estimates it will cook 3,000 hot meals, covering families for 12 out of the 14 days of school holiday time. 

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This year, due to a surplus of donated presents, the volunteers will be making some deliveries to Queen’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street. 

The initiative started on Sunday and will finish on New Year’s Eve, providing meals to cover new year’s weekend. 

To Nilesh Dosa, founder of icanyoucantoo, events like these serve a double-function - helping the needy in the community, but also getting high-flying executives working alongside the young people he wants to encourage. 

Donated Christmas presents ready for delivery.

Donated Christmas presents ready for delivery. - Credit: Daniel Gayne

David Durlacher, chief executive of private banking company Julius Baer, was among the kitchen staff when the Recorder visited on Tuesday; he said he had learnt “an awful lot” from engaging with the other volunteers on the job. 

Caroline Spencer, strategic project manager at icanyoucantoo, said these interactions “level the playing field”, allowing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to work in partnership with senior executives.

“Here, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a c-suite [executive] or a kid helping out your parents, it allows you to have conversations you just wouldn’t be able to have,” she said.

The story behind icanyoucantoo

Nilesh Dosa set up icanyoucantoo in 2019 with the aim of helping less privileged young people achieve their potential. 

The son of immigrants who grew up in a one-bedroom council flat in Newham, Nilesh knows how hard it can be to break into the professional world. 

He told the Recorder how out of place he felt on his first day at accountancy firm KPMG, despite a strong academic record. 

After working in finance for more than a decade, a return to his former secondary school in Newham encouraged him to change things. 

After delivering a careers talk, he was shocked when a black pupil said they thought the only black people in Canary Wharf were cleaners. 

That academic year, he worked with the pupil and five others to help them with their careers and in 2018, took a pay cut and went part-time from his job at Ersnt & Young (EY), setting up the community interest company a year later. 

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and wasn’t on the right path”

The Recorder spoke to some of the volunteers at icanyoucantoo’s hub in Hornchurch about their roles in the non-profit and why they wanted to give back to the community.

Rabir Hussain, 18, said he joined the icanyoucantoo’s mentee programme after Nilesh visited his college,  St Angela's Ursuline Sixth Form in Forest Gate. 

He is now in his first year at London South Bank University studying accounting and this year is a programme coordinator for the Christmas hot meals programme. 

Rambir Hussain

Rabir Hussain - Credit: Daniel Gayne

“I’ve learnt bags of stuff that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done this,” he said. 

“We only started on Sunday, today is the second day for the Christmas hot meals and I’ve already had to organise people who are more senior than me." 

Anmol Bhangal, 21, said he had first met Nilesh as a maths tutor when he was struggling with his GCSEs. 

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and wasn’t on the right path,” said Anmol. 

Nilesh had encouraged his pupil to try work experience at EY and Anmol, although not initially keen, ultimately relented. 

Anmol Bhangal

Anmol Bhangal - Credit: Daniel Gayne

“It really opened my eyes to the corporate world and made me realise what I wanted to do,” he said, explaining that without these encouragements and opportunities his current position as an apprentice at Julius Baer would not have been possible. 

Recently, Anmol successfully pitched to have icanyoucantoo become the company’s official charity this year. 

He added that, growing up in Barking and Dagenham, “a lot of my friends didn’t have access to basic necessities”, and said he wanted to help with the food programme to give back. 

Sheena Sethi, 26, used to work with Nilesh at EY and, after hearing about icanyoucantoo, asked him how she could get involved. 

He told her: “The best way to get involved is to see what we do first hand and see if you like what you see."

Sheena Sethi

Sheena Sethi - Credit: Daniel Gayne

Shortly thereafter, she was participating in a ‘careers library’, in which she – an accountant – and other professionals answered young people’s questions about their jobs. 

Sheena said: “I absolutely loved it, I just thought these students are so ambitious and they just need a bit of support.” 

She has now been heavily involved with the non-profit for two years and is helping build the syllabus for icanyoucantoo mentees.