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Feeding the Community in Lockdown - YMCA Thames Gateway

By Ruth Leigh | 5 February 2021

What does your weekly shopping list look like? However long your list, it’s almost certain that it pales into insignificance compared to the weekly shop done by Penny Culliford, Chaplain at YMCA Thames Gateway.


The charity has been serving its community for over 130 years, covering the Thames Gateway area. YMCA’s vision is to be an inclusive Christian movement transforming communities so that everyone can belong, contribute and thrive. Part of that vision in 2020 is helping people to eat well, hence Penny’s overflowing supermarket trolley.


“At the beginning of lockdown, we were shopping several times a day when goods were restricted. Now that things have calmed down a bit, we’re out at least three times a week stocking up on items for hampers for local families who need help. We’re also shopping for Christmas hampers, crafts and small gifts for families and individuals in need. There are usually three of us out shopping, myself, Emma the Fundraising Manager and Kirsty the Senior Area Fundraiser.”


Penny, Emma and Kirsty have become a familiar sight at their local supermarket, pushing trolleys loaded with tea bags, cereal, juice, tinned goods and puddings. At the beginning of lockdown, there were some suspicious looks as they loaded up on loo rolls and pasta, but the conversations they had at the checkouts bore unexpected fruit.


“We’d just finished a big shop for hampers at Asda in Charlton and started chatting to a gentleman about what we do. He reached into his wallet and gave us £20. We were so touched. However, on our way out of the shop, he approached us again and gave us a larger donation. He’d thought about what we were doing, decided he could afford more and withdrawn a generous amount from the cash machine to give to us and to support our work.”


The team estimate that they’ve packed and distributed over 3,000 meals worth of food this year, plus small gift bags for local people who are isolated due to health, age or vulnerability. Much of this has been made possible by the generosity of their community.


“We’ve been working with a local construction company who have been incredibly generous. They give us food vouchers which we use in Asda. We do the shop, pack it all up and deliver it with our team. As the Chaplain, this wasn’t on my original job description, but my attitude is that the work needs to be done and I muck in and do it. I found myself driving around Kent in a transit van visiting apple packing plants, as they donate their boxes for our food drops. My knowledge of the apple packing world has increased considerably!”


The charity has worked closely with many shops in their communities, particularly since the pandemic hit. “The Longfield branch of Waitrose kept everyone going with a weekly larder at the height of lockdown, and TK Maxx made a generous donation. We found ourselves packing up some very exclusive items, including truffle paste, posh olive oil and even some foie gras.”


Pre-Covid, the charity was providing food in the holidays for children who qualify for free school meals. This reached around sixty local families. Post-Covid, the numbers are much higher. At Christmas, we packed hampers for hundreds of families, as well as small gifts and craft packs for children.


“We’re blessed to see so many generosity stories in action. We hope to hear the best of people and when we do, it encourages us all. One of my favourite stories concerns two of our staff who were out shopping for hampers when they saw a gentleman on the next till who’d left his card at home. People behind him were tutting and getting impatient. Emma offered to pay the bill which came to £80. He didn’t want to owe us any money so took our details. A few days later, he repaid us, along with a cheque for a large donation towards our work. We felt enormously blessed by this unexpected generosity.”


“Shop till you drop” is a phrase often heard at Christmas. For Penny and the team, however, shopping is a year-round activity filled with grace and generosity.


You can find out more about their work here:

Read more:

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Care For the Family: Supporting Those Grieving During the Pandemic


Posted by Ruth Leigh

Ruth is a freelance writer and speaker, based in beautiful Suffolk. She is married with three children and a variety of other livestock. She has two novels in the editing stage, writes for a number of Christian charities and writes blogs for small Suffolk businesses. She is a recovering over-achiever who is now able to do the school run in her onesie most days. She contributes to the Association of Christian Writers’ blog, More Than Writers, and also blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories, covering topics as diverse as King Zog of Albania, a Christingle plagued by punch-ups and tummy upsets, and the inevitable decline of elderly parents. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life.


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