Keeping body and soul together
In early March, as Coronavirus cases started increasing, staff at Barrow Baptist Church began discussing how they could help the community. Two weeks later, the government advised elderly and vulnerable citizens to stay home for 12 weeks. Barrow Baptist’s groups and services were unable to continue in the building in Beveridge Street - though they continue to live-stream services, and many groups meet virtually.
Faced with an empty building, the minister, Rev Ben Haldane, decided to create a collection point for food for distribution to people in the village who were isolating, vulnerable or had other needs.
“We had one week to get everything organised before lockdown,” he says. “It was a very busy week!”
Within a few days, the church’s website had a Coronavirus section added, through which people were able to ask for help, and to volunteer. To date they have 150 volunteers on their books. Information Leaflets, giving the helpline number, were printed and volunteers distributed them to every household in the village. The Conservative Club had also been a collection point for food donations, but it was decided that one place to store and process everything, the church, would be simpler.
And so the food bank was established. The most common requests in the beginning were for people to shop for those who were unable to shop for themselves. Fetching prescriptions from the chemist was another frequent request. The Helping Hands Group (see accompanying article) was already on to this and decided to work in conjunction with the church to prevent overlap. Volunteers were paired with people who lived close to them to help with shopping and prescriptions.
Meanwhile the church decided that, as it had a good kitchen, meals could be cooked and frozen. The kitchen was stripped back to basics to facilitate good hygiene and easy cleaning. Advice was obtained from the Department of Environmental Health and volunteer cooks from the church were trained in advanced hygiene practices. Only one, or at most two, cooks are in the kitchen at any time. Meals are cooked without the main allergens and there are vegetarian and vegan options.
“This preparation took place in the week before lockdown, so the timing was good,” says Ben. “The church focuses on the food side and personal support, and Helping Hands attends to other requests. We liaise with them about the needs in the community.”
Donations of food can be left on a table outside the back door of the church, under the canopy. Only dry, long-life and non-perishable foods can be accepted and the table is cleared once a day. The church has also managed to secure funding from Leicestershire County Council and the Barrow upon Soar Parish Council.
The needs are, however, changing. Requests for food parcels are expected to increase as people’s incomes are reduced and businesses struggle. By the third week in April, 36 food parcels had been distributed and 175 meals delivered to vulnerable members of the community. Ben believes that as time goes on, the stress of isolation will begin to bite and people will be needing help with mental health issues.
“People must not be embarrassed to ask for help, whatever their need may be,” says Ben. “Have a conversation with us, all information is confidential. We are here to help you.”
The helpline number is 07395 902961 or see www.barrowbaptist.org.uk/coronavirus