Café introduces ‘pay it forward’ meals as food poverty worsens

‘Pay it forward’ started as a goodwill gesture, yet with food banks at breaking point, Atma Lounge uses this trend to feed those in need

Behind Gopi are spiritual and self-help books. Atma Lounge functions as both a cafe and wellbeing centre, offering events like meditation and lifestyle management workshops. Credit: Inga Marsden

You may have heard of a ‘pay it forward’ scheme, which has been a popular trend among coffee shops in the UK, whereby you pay for the coffee of the next customer. It started as a goodwill gesture, yet one Cardiff cafe has gone a step further. Atma Lounge’s ‘buy one feed one’ scheme adds £2 to your bill, which subsidises an entire meal for someone struggling to afford the basic essentials. 

Offering mostly Indian cuisine, Atma Lounge on Queen Street hands out 30 free curries a day as part of the scheme. Café owner, Gopi, said the buy one feed one initiative started just after lockdown, but continued as the cost of living crisis is causing food poverty to worsen. 

“We decided we wanted to use this space as a meal distribution hub, not just a cafe” she said proudly.

A poll carried out by Opinium revealed that one in six people in Wales are skipping meals to make ends meet. Gopi said she is expecting the number of food packages to skyrocket as the number of people in “I’m choosing between paying my bills and feeding myself” situations increases. 

The Cardiff Food Bank warehouse collected food for 12,700 people last year, and six months into this year they have already fed 10,000 people.   

The Trussell Trust, who oversee Cardiff Food Bank, reported “record breaking” levels of need in a recent article in Wales Online. In the past six months, 320,000 people have been forced to turn to food banks for the first time here in Wales, placing increasing pressure on food charities.

Emma Shephard, Cardiff Food Bank’s project manager, said that while donations have been steady, they aren’t going to keep up with demand. She said, “When stock is running low we have to buy food, that’s increasing more as demand goes up.”            

At Atma, people just come in, no questions asked, Gopi explains. “Because it’s a café, it doesn’t have that charity atmosphere, it’s all very low key. All customers are treated the same.”