MAZI: A new project tackling food insecurity for 16-25-year-olds in supported accommodation

Motivated by the national row over Free School Meals, Melanie Vaxevanakis has set up MAZI, a project to help young people experiencing food insecurity in Bristol. MAZI will deliver a weekly meal box for young people with food sourced from independent food businesses. Melanie is keen to build a network with anyone who would like to get involved and plans to use storytelling and social media to engage young people.

MAZI is a new initiative that aims to tackle food insecurity for 16-25-year-olds living in supported accommodation through different community actions. “Mazi” means “together” in Greek (I am from Athens) and this is a sentiment we all need at the moment. The ethos of MAZI is based on the idea of working together at community and grassroots level to help those in need and create change.

From a personal point of view, food is a great passion. The links between community and food are central to my life in many ways, which has given me experiences, memories and knowledge that are at the heart of my desire for food justice. This love that I have for food and its power is the driver behind the project and what I hope to inspire in the people we work with. I want to share the power of food with some of the more marginalised communities of our society. 

I originally launched MAZI following the Free School Meal (FSM) scandal which sparked national outrage and highlighted the extent of the disconnect between politicians and those in need. Channeling my frustration, MAZI’s first action was to start a fundraiser to provide families eligible for FSM with food vouchers.

In only five days we managed to raise £1000 (our original target) and help that ensure more than 20 children had food on the table. We also provided over £450 worth of food vouchers to refugee families via Bristol Refugee Rights. Here is the link to the fundraiser: Help buy food vouchers for families in need.

Sahla, a Sudanese women who came to the UK as a refugee, was one of the recipients of the food vouchers – MAZI is now focusing on supporting 16-25-year-olds

After the amazing support for the fundraiser, I decided to redefine MAZI as an organisation and focus on 16-25-year-olds living in supported accommodation – whether they are care leavers, youth recovering from homelessness or young asylum seekers.

Working with local charities and Bristol’s diverse food scene, MAZI will deliver a weekly meal box with three recipes, the necessary ingredients (all locally sourced) and the nutritional information for each meal. The boxes and recipes will be designed in collaboration with young people and local chefs to ensure that they are helpful, healthy and most importantly tasty. Each box will be tailored to dietary requirements and available cooking equipment.

Included in the box will be treats from independent delis and restaurants that will hopefully introduce the young people to new flavours and help build a bridge between the food disparity of the city. In the future, we hope to host cook-alongs and other fundraising events and community actions.

The aim of MAZI is to ensure that young people have consistent access to nutritional food and the opportunity to try new flavours, develop cooking skills and a chance to delve deeper into the food scene if they choose.

As a photographer and filmmaker, I also believe in the power of storytelling. Using a collaborative approach and mixed media, MAZI will use social media as a platform for the young people to share their experiences of cooking, connect with local restaurants and chefs and – if  they choose – share their stories. Follow us on Instagram at @themaziproject.

MAZI is still very new and we are keen to build a network with anyone who would like to get involved or can help by providing something special for the young people.

By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join The Conversation now.

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