Christmas was marked by the selflessness of many giving up time to deliver essential supplies to those who were struggling financially or through isolation.
The usual Christmas gatherings, dinners, carol singing and parties, which many parishes host for their elderly communities were unable to happen but those who usually attended such events were not forgotten.
In Perivale volunteers at St John Fisher parish were able to surprise 50 parishioners with a little Christmas treat and some lovely hand-crafted Christmas cards. They were supported by the generosity of one of their local councillors and their former local MP.
Ana Hains, the Caritas Rep in the parish said
“It was lovely to see the reaction of those who received a gift bag, many of them moved by the gesture. The gift was made even more special by the fantastic pupils at St John Fisher Primary School, who worked so hard to make individual cards and really make each gift personal.”
Sometimes we may not know who is struggling with loneliness but those who are Deaf are at a greater risk of isolation The Caritas Deaf Service has done much to support this community with online activities while face-to-face meetings have been impossible. But in order to connect physically, staff at the Deaf Service sent a pack out to all their Deaf contacts, containing small gifts and a letter which suggested that, if they don’t need the gifts themselves, they could share the love by passing them on to someone else.
Meanwhile in Hitchin a major organisational feat was carried out by 20 volunteers who put together 72 food hampers and packaged up 300 presents. The volunteers, including England Goalkeeper David James, were able to provide 36 struggling families with hampers of fresh vegetables and meat for Christmas dinner, presents for their children and all kinds of goodies which were delivered on Christmas eve.
This was made possible thanks to the North Herts District Council who provided supermarket vouchers, and local residents who donated gifts. Local shops organised collections of gifts to fill the Christmas sacks.
Many of the families who received these hampers have been supported since May 2020 by a collaboration between Caritas Westminster, Feed Up Warm Up and the Hitchin Food Provision Team – a local initiative set up as a response to the Covid Crisis.
One mother who received a parcel on Christmas eve sent this message to the project organisers – her words were echoed by many more in the same situation.
“Thank you all for the amazing treats and gifts you gave us, not only for today but throughout most of this year. We really appreciate everything you have done and are beyond grateful to have had a somewhat normal Christmas thank to all your help and generosity. Have a blessed Christmas and God bless you all.”
From May to September, Caritas Westminster and Feed Up Warem Up delivered more than 1700 nutritious hot meals to these families, across Hitchin and Letchworth.
However, with a new lockdown and more economic hardship being faced by families, the number seeking help is already increasing. Since the end of December, there have been an additional 14 families referred to them to receive support, meaning that they are now also supporting families in Stevenage. This week alone, 39 families have received food parcels.
Meanwhile Caritas Westminster is once again offering schools and parishes supermarket vouchers to hand out to those in need – for example those stuck in the delay between losing their job and their first payment from Universal Credit, or in the process of applying for free school meals, and others who fall through the gaps. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have distributed nearly £175,000 in vouchers to 122 parishes and schools. This has been a lifeline for over 6,000 people from around 1800 households.
Dependence on the help from parish groups and schools is the reality for too many people at the beginning of 2021. But we know that the spirit of Christmas will live on in all the volunteers who give up their time to help.
And our projects will continue to learn and grow – moving from providing for immediate need, to helping those who turn to them to rebuild their lives. If you are involved in providing emergency food, you can learn how to turn your project into a long-term programme of support for the most vulnerable in your community by joining our Road to Resilience programme.