This Christmas we’re looking for the Hidden Heroes who make a big difference to people’s lives in local communities – like Michael who gives up his time to cook hot meals for people who rely on the Carlisle Foodbank.
Michael Cullen, 64, turned to the foodbank when things went wrong in his life – but says: “When I got back on my feet I decided to give something back.”
He was nominated for an Asda Hidden Hero award by our Carlisle store’s Community Champion Nikki Iveson, who volunteers at the foodbank and takes in all the food that our customers and colleagues donate.
Michael became a chef after leaving the army, and he uses his experience to make nourishing and tasty dishes for people to eat at the foodbank or frozen meals to take away and heat up at home.
Niki has secured a £1,000 donation from the Asda Foundation to help Michael cook a three-course Christmas meal on 10th December and pay for Christmas presents for children who come in with their families.
She said: "Michael is absolutely brilliant – a real Hidden Hero who does so much.
“You can see the difference in people who come in regularly – they look healthier and that’s partly due to Michael’s wholesome cooking.
Niki is one of our army of Asda Elves who are out and about in local communities in the run-up to Christmas spreading festive cheer and highlighting the selfless work of hidden heroes like Michael.
She said: “Michael’s really boosted morale with visitors and the volunteers. He’s so down to earth. Bcause he’s used the foodbank here before, he knows both sides. His cooking is amazing – the crumbles are a real favourite!”
Michael turned to the foodbank after his wife died and he “fell apart”. Now he caters for up to 60 people a day. As well as taking stock of what food and ingredients have been donated and preparing and cooking meals, he also cleans and tidies the kitchen.
Michael said: "I used this centre a few years ago and I really needed it. When I got back on my feet I decided seven months ago to give something back.
“It’s given me a new lease of life. When my wife died I withdrew into myself and fell apart. I had a breakdown. This has given my life a purpose and I’m enjoying doing it.
“I don’t plan recipes because it just depends what arrives in, but everything gets used as long as it’s fresh. One day some wild rice and lentils arrived so I made a risotto and added some salmon in, and people said it was gorgeous. I fed 60 people with that.”
Michael said the support of Asda customers and Niki makes a big difference.
He said: "It’s fantastic what Asda and their customers have been doing by donating to the foodbank and it’s appreciated a thousand times over.
“I’m chuffed to be an Asda Hidden Hero. Thank you to everyone who put a donation in the foodbank. By doing that you’re giving something back to the community no matter whether the donation is small or big.”
Charlie Greensmith, 57, pictured with Michael above, turned to the foodbank after losing his job in a local garage. He still comes in for meals but now also volunteers, occasionally helping Michael out in the kitchen and carrying out maintenance and odd jobs.
He said: "What Michael does here is amazing. We have a laugh together and just bounce off each other.
“People have had a tough time up here. As well as all the other problems which happen in people’s lives, many people had their homes absolutely wrecked by the floods and have had problems claiming on their insurance.
“Niki’s great too – if she can help you, she will.”
The foodbank is divided into two areas – a hall where people can eat the hot food cooked by Michael, and a second hall where people can pick up tinned and packaged food, fruit, vegetables and pet food. The foodbank is open between 1pm and 3pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.