South London chef Ayesha Pakravan-Ovey became the latest member of our Lionhearts squad to get the call-up, after providing almost 20,000 free meals to people across the capital.
And she was welcomed into the squad with a special message from England star Marcus Rashford, who has also gone above and beyond this year with his charity work to try and help keep hunger at bay for millions of people across the country.
Ayesha’s story began during the first COVID-19 lockdown, when all of the bookings for her catering business The Plattery were cancelled.
She promptly set up Vital Meals in March and using her time and skill, she made use of food donations and her wholesale contacts while raising money through crowdfunding to back it up.
Helping to feed those who need it most. Ayesha Pakravan-Ovey has gone above and beyond to support others through @VitalMeals ❤️— England (@England) November 20, 2020
We went down to welcome her to our #Lionhearts squad – and surprise her with a message from @MarcusRashford! pic.twitter.com/vTiPgbxayq
It meant she was able to offer free home-cooked meals to the elderly, high-risk people, NHS staff, key workers and children unable to access cooked meals, as well as homeless shelters.
Vital Meals would provide a minimum of seven meals that can be frozen and used over the week and since launching they’ve donated more than 15,000 meals to Londoners in need and raised almost £20,000 through crowdfunding to help finance the service.
"When I had the idea, the panic buying was really bad,” revealed Ayesha.
“When we started, we were doing about ten meals a day and we were running out of my home kitchen in Battersea.
"Every time someone contacted us and said 'do you need food?' we just said yes and we would take people four meals per person, per household so they could all eat and have the worry of where their next meal was going to come from removed.
"Over the last six months we've grown to 15,000 meals and we're heading towards 20,000 meals now.”
Since then, Ayesha has also gone on to provide cookery classes for youngsters at her Clapham base to help them learn how to prepare and make their food go further.
The Lionhearts initiative, supported by BT, aims to pay homage to 23 inspirational individuals who have gone above and beyond during this challenging time for the nation.
And Ayesha admits she didn’t see this particular call coming.
"It's very surreal, to be honest,” she added.
“To be included in something like the Lionhearts squad is just, I was going to say a dream come true, but I never even dreamed that it would be a thing.
"It feels like such an honour to be part of very good company as well.”
The squad so far...
1.Captain Sir Tom Moore – Record-breaking centenarian who raised more than £32million for NHS Charities Together
2. Ranjit Singh – The wrestling coach from Wolverhampton helped organise daily meals for 300 people and the distribution of PPE equipment
5. Betty-Leigh Allinson – Football shirt enthusiast aged five who has raised over £27,000 for a Hertfordshire hospice through a cycling feat
7. Imogen Papworth-Heidel - The young footballer embarked on a mission to do a keepie-uppie for every keyworker in the UK and raised over £10,000 for nine charities in the process.
9. Tobias Weller – Nine-year-old inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore to raise almost £150,000 for Sheffield-based charities
10. Joe Wicks - The YouTube fitness coach led the nation and beyond through a daily exercise class for 18 weeks during lockdown.
12. Nana Badu – His organisation, BADU Sports, provided a helpline, food bank and deliveries to vulnerable members of the local community in Hackney.
14. Kian Cormier - The teenager produced visors for his local community in Surrey, while continuing his studies.
15. Hassan Akkad – Award-winning film maker who answered a call to be a cleaner in his local hospital before raising awareness of NHS bereavement fund
16. Akbar Khan - Bradford-based volunteer for a charity for people with disabilities who brought their community together during COVID-19 lockdown
17. Ayesha Pakravan - The chef set up Vital Meals during lockdown and went on to provide over 15,000 free meals to people in London
18. Dema Aktaa - Syrian refugee who helped raise money for COVID-19 outbreaks in refugee camps by walking on her prosthetic leg.
19. Tony Hudgell - Celebrated young fundraiser who raised £1.6m for the hospital which saved his life as a baby
22. Daniel Sukula – Community leader from Bolton who, after being saved from deportation back to DR Congo, founded a centre for disadvantaged youths.
23. Jay Flynn - The virtual quizmaster helped raise money for multiple charities and entered the Guinness Book of Records during lockdown