Inspired by Marcus Rashford's campaign, Newcastle Geography students Kate, Eleni and Tash made it their mission in late October to run 5km every day until Christmas dressed as giant carrots to raise money for Newcastle West End Foodbank.
Since then they have raised over £1700 of their £2000 goal, with the majority of donations totalling less than £10. Their expeditions around the city have been documented on the Instagram account @carrots_on_the_run where 670 people now follow the daily updates.
The trio have made appearances running through the Havannah Reserve, Jesmond Dene, Tynemouth, Newcastle University, Souter Lighthouse, over the Millenium Bridge and more. On their final day, Christmas Day, they will run first thing in the morning, “and then collapse”, says Kate.
As they run, they blast music through a speaker and many of the locals are no longer surprised to see the carrots trooping through Jesmond. They’re met with a range of reactions: from children pointing and shouting “carrot!” and walkers stopping to run alongside, to a man who yelled “losers!”.
“To be fair, he’s got a point,” Tash concedes.
When asked about their biggest obstacles in the leadup to Christmas, the answer is immediate: Injury or self-isolation. If someone in their house tests positive or comes into contact with someone with coronavirus then they will be forced to run up and down the stairs of their shared house. “Even if one of us has a broken leg, we’ll somehow get 5k in.”
They spread the word at every possible opportunity; Kate discloses “At the end of every online lecture with 70 other people, I turn my mic on and go ‘Thank you! Follow @carrots_on_the_run!’”
“We get so much support running that now it’s weird walking through town [dressed normally] and not having people, like, cheering us on and staring at us. We’re so used to people gawping.”
But responses aren’t always fleeting. “We were running through Haymarket and a woman came up to us who told us how much she relied on the foodbank in the past and wanted to donate… She was with her son and his pregnant girlfriend who needed to travel to Manchester for an operation but couldn’t afford it. We walked away and we all just started crying.”
“It’s nearly a marathon a week; it really wears you down. So many people say ‘surely you could just have a rest day’. But no. It’s on your conscience.”
Established seven years ago, the foodbank has never seen food poverty rise as rapidly as it has in 2020. In April, demand increased by 200%, which led to volunteers and staff distributing 25 tonnes of food to 5000 people in the local area.
Chief Executive John McCorry explained that high levels of demand for emergency food tapered as the economy stabilised slightly during summer but “We can already see that for September and October numbers are increasing and Christmas is always a time of high demand… the landscape is changing all the time.”
By the end of November, staff expect to have distributed as much food to those in need since April as in the entire previous financial year.
An emergency food parcel contains three days of non-perishable food and is supplemented by fresh fruit and vegetables where possible. Storage facilities for perishable food are limited and cash donations from the carrot campaign may be used to invest in more.
The foodbank’s current campaign is a “reverse advent calendar”; they are asking for donations of a different food staple for each day in November. Ideally all items should be delivered by 12th December at the latest. Pre-cooked meals will be prepared by volunteers for Christmas day.
There is also an appeal for donations of advent calendars for children. Bill Corcoran, who helped mobilise NUFC’s branch of the West End Foodbank, commented on The Geordie Guide to Happiness podcast that the calendars “mean that the kids can go to school and feel exactly the same as every other kid in [their] class. We want them to have dignity; that dignity gets them through.”
Corcoran was adamant that his goal is for the foodbank to be abolished due to a lack of demand: “If in five years time people come along and say ‘let’s see what the foodbank think of this’... it will be a grotesque failure and we will regard it as such.”
Although they are a part of the Trussel Trust network, West End Foodbank is an independent charity.
Before the pandemic they operated out of three centres but since March have reached out to support smaller organisations across the city and in doing so have reached more people living in Newcastle’s areas of high deprivation.
They have had to limit volunteering due to social distancing restrictions and have six paid staff members.
McCorry responded to the campaign: “Hunger generally goes unseen, so this is great. How innovative, creative and funny, the fact they’re running as carrots. I think it’s rather novel, and I appreciate it.”
Kate revealed that onlookers often film the spectacle, especially on Northumberland Street.
“For us now it’s pretty normal but if I was walking down the road and I saw three carrots coming at me out of nowhere… it is weird. I wonder where that video goes.”
Eleni fires back: “All the family group chats, I reckon.”
If you or someone you know is in need of an emergency food parcel, foodbank referrals can be made through Citizens’ Advice Newcastle and Newcastle Citylife Line as well as Newcastle University’s Welfare Officer Nadia Ahmed at email@example.com .
Donate to the Carrots on the Run campaign here.