A little Dumbarton cafe with a big heart is encouraging residents to enjoy a tasty meal while extending an act of kindness to those in need.
Chari-Tea gives everyone access to affordable food and drink, believing everyone is entitled to a healthy meal no matter their circumstance.
It operates a pay-it-forward scheme, allowing people who can afford a bite to eat can help pay for something to eat for someone who needs it.
The Artizan Center cafe is the brainchild of charity Food For Thought, which provides emergency food parcels to struggling residents across West Dunbartonshire.
It also provides a place for people to fill in online benefits forms and will be used to train and provide volunteering opportunities.
It’s been open since September last year but staff believe many people still don’t know about the hub, which is situated at the end of the centre.
And they say it’s needed more than ever as the cost-of-living crisis hits already struggling residents even further.
Lorraine McLeish, operations administrator, said: “It’s a lovely cozy cafe and the food is amazing.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t realize the cafe is there until they walk up and see the tables and chairs outside.”
Explaining how it works, she said: “The pay-it-forward scheme means our service users, or anyone who needs some help, can come into our base which is just opposite the cafe in the former Army careers office.
“They then exchange it for something to eat.
“It’s funded through kind donations from customers who wish to add an extra £2 to their bill.
“Every time somebody eats with us, they are helping us feed those in need across West Dunbartonshire.”
Award-winning head chef Eddie McGinty has 30 years experience cooking delicious food and told the Lennox Herald how he is thrilled to be part of the venture.
Speaking behind the counter while preparing lunches, he told how he has worked in popular venues across the area, including Lodge at Loch Lomond and The Drovers Inn.
Eddie said: “I’ve worked in mental health for years and ran Flourish House in Glasgow, which is a mental health charity.
“When I saw this job I had to go for it and I’m really enjoying it.
“Everybody seems to like the food and it’s a friendly place to eat and enjoy a breakfast or lunch.
“We get a lot of regulars and it would be nice to see more faces.
“Some come in for the first time and say they didn’t realize we were here.”
The cafe offers tasty breakfasts, brunches, lunches and sweet treats, as well as seasonal offerings for occasions such as Mother’s Day.
Residents are also encouraged to book spaces for events, including birthdays, Christenings and corporate events.
The premises can be hired out for small gatherings with a catering service provided.
Food For Thought expanded in summer 2020 after seeing a huge demand for essential food supplies since the start of the pandemic.
Thanks to new funding, they moved to a unit in the town centre’s Artizan Centre, increasing staff members and establishing three distribution centres.
Last month, we told how the charity has seen a huge rise in the numbers of people seeking help and reported at the start of March that they had fed 1,000 people in the space of just three weeks, with some turning away free food as they can ‘t afford the energy to cook them.
One of their regular service users told how the foodbank and cafe have been a lifeline to him.
While waiting for his sausage roll, he told the Lennox Herald: “I come and pick up my food parcel and then I’ll stop in the cafe for a bite to eat.
“I try and come down a couple of times a week.
“It gets me out of the house and everyone’s friendly.
“I just like coming down and meeting people, while having something to eat.
“The food’s really good.”
Chari-Tea is open between 9am and 2pm every day apart from Wednesdays and Sundays.