County Durham’s fire service has come to the rescue of a local café thanks to a new volunteering unit aiming to support local organisations during the coronavirus pandemic.
The partnership was set up by County Durham Together as part of its work to match organisations in need with businesses and individuals who have volunteered their services and resources.
The new unit aims to provide support for organisations which need additional help to continue their work across local communities and offers a route for businesses to provide support.
It is now helping a Chester-le-Street organisation deliver food parcels to vulnerable residents across the county, after they asked for support with reliable drivers.
Nikki Dravers from the REfUSE café submitted her request for drivers to get as many meals and food boxes to households that are struggling financially, have poor health or disabilities or those unable to leave the house to access shopping.
REfUSE is Durham’s branch of The Real Junk Food Project, a network of organisations challenging levels of food waste by turning it into healthy meals, served on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis.
They were quickly matched with County Durham and Darlington’s Fire and Rescue service which offered its support via the council volunteer unit and since then, they have been able to reach hundreds of residents in need.
Mark Henderson submitted the form on behalf of the fire service and he and colleague Sarah Litt are helping to carry out deliveries.
Mark said: “Our community safety team gladly obliged with the request to help the REfUSE café. We will be continuing to help out over the coming weeks, supporting their own volunteers three days a week, to ensure everyone has the food they need during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Nikki Dravers, who runs the café, said: “We’re really pleased to have the fire service helping us deliver our food boxes.
“We are delivering on average 135 boxes a week containing everything a family should need for that week, so it’s a lot of food to coordinate and has been hard work for our staff team.
“The need is still increasing, with individuals and families struggling financially and unable to get to the shops they would normally.
“Many people are anxious and struggling with mental and physical health problems at the moment, along with all the other challenges of lockdown isolation, so it is a privilege to be able to provide food that hopefully will not only give sustenance but also a bit of joy – there are plenty of treats and surprises in our boxes!
“With brilliant volunteers like Mark and Sarah, we have been able to increase the number of boxes we put together and deliver, so can meet more needs. I’m so grateful to them.”
Cllr Brian Stephens, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said: “It is great to see that the volunteering unit is already making a difference to our communities through the fantastic efforts of our volunteers and local groups.
“We appreciate these continue to be difficult times for everyone and while some of our volunteers may be going back to work soon as some restrictions ease, we all still need to come together against the challenges of the virus and maintain this level of support for our local organisations and communities.”
Any organisation or charity in need of either IT, financial, telephone and customer services support, or in need or resources such as premises, vehicles, drivers or other essential equipment, can also request help online at the same page durham.gov.uk/volunteerunit
Any businesses which are able to offer support to charity groups or local organisations should fill in a form on the council’s website: durham.gov.uk/volunteerunit