Community groups step up to help save lives

A volunteer at the Hornbeam helps pack grocery bags (credit David Latto)
A volunteer at the Hornbeam helps pack grocery bags (credit David Latto)

Report by James Cracknell and Judith Burnett

The “inspiring” community response to Covid-19 has seen volunteers across Waltham Forest doing their bit to help and tens of thousands of pounds being raised for charitable causes.

While existing voluntary organisations have been providing assistance for those directly affected by the pandemic, many new groups and networks have also sprung up to join them.

Creative residents formed a sewing network to make scrubs, as the pandemic means there are more workers required to wear them. Amy Westwood, a costume designer from Walthamstow, is co-ordinating 130 volunteers as part of Waltham Forest Scrub Hub. They’ve made around 200 sets of scrubs to date. Amy said: “We have costume makers, fashion cutters, tailors and sewing hobbyists. It’s been wonderful to discover a massive amount of talent and bring all those people together for such an amazing cause.”

Waltham Forest Scrub Hub gets help fulfilling orders from Duncan Gray, of Walthamstow design company Süpahulk Ltd, who offered use of his fabric cutting machine. It costs £10 per product to cover the cost of materials, transportation, and delivery – donations can be made at gofundme.com/f/makescrubsforthenhs and volunteers can join via facebook.com/groups/scrubhubwalthamforest.

Demand for food relief has soared as many people have seen their incomes reduced. Several existing foodbanks in Waltham Forest have made big appeals for donations to help meet demand, while other charities have stepped in to provide home delivery services for vulnerable people unable to leave their homes.

Rukhsana Khan Foundation (RKF), a foodbank based in Brunner Road, Walthamstow, has switched to doing home deliveries, with food parcels being sent out to 70 local families every Saturday morning. Founder Jahangir Khan said: “So many more vulnerable families are facing hardship. RKF volunteers have been lifesavers in making sure the charity has the ability to help so many in this difficult period.”

Donations to RKF can be made via rukhsanakhanfoundation.org.

In Highams Park and Chingford, a new service has been launched to provide pre-prepared meals and food packages for free. Highams Park Food Aid delivers to people’s doors. Husband and wife team, Peter and Tracey Rogers, took the initiative when the lockdown began in March. Tracey told the Echo: “We became aware of a gap for those self-isolating or vulnerable.”

Anyone who’d like to request a delivery from Highams Park Food Aid or make a donation can visit highamspark.london/featured/highams-park-food-aid.

Eat or Heat runs three foodbanks at Quaker House in Walthamstow, Salvation Army in Leytonstone, and South Chingford Congregational Church. The website eatorheat.org has information about opening times and how to donate, with an ongoing appeal for cereal boxes, long-life milk and cans of fruit and veg. Founder Gary Nash said: “An enormous thank you to the Waltham Forest community for being so generous and helping us feed those in need during this pandemic.”

The Hornbeam Centre in Bakers Arms is providing 800 free meals and 1,000 grocery bags a week. It is open from 12pm-3pm everyday for collections, while a bike delivery service for those in self-isolation can be ordered via the website at hornbeam.org.uk/hornbeam-covid-19. There’s an ongoing financial appeal at crowdfunder.co.uk/community-food-distribution-centre, which has raised £7,000 so far.

Wood Street First was asked if it could help provide hot meals for staff at Whipps Cross Hospital. Founder Graham Hodgkiss told the Echo: “Straight away we set about finding local restaurants, takeaways and cooks to help provide these meals, but what we need now is funds to buy ingredients. We can then ensure doctors and nurses get at least one hot meal every shift. I think it’s the least we can do.”

Donations to Wood Street First can be made at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/feednhsstaff.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, Waltham Forest Mutual Aid was set up to co-ordinate help at a street-by-street level. Within a couple of weeks, there was a group running in every ward of the borough. Find your nearest at walthamforestmutualaid.org.uk.

Waltham Forest Citizens’ Advice is also offering free guidance to those struggling with financial problems. Their line is open 9am-5pm on 0300 330 1175 and donations can be made by texting CAWF15 to 70070.

Meanwhile, Waltham Forest Council has been running its own community help network, delivering around 2,500 food parcels and medicine supplies to the most vulnerable residents. A crowdfunder in support has raised £42,000. Councillor Ahsan Khan said: “We have been inspired by the community response to Covid-19 and are hugely grateful for the support provided by individuals, self-organising groups and local charities. This community spirit and desire to support the most vulnerable is what makes Waltham Forest so special. Thank you.”