Chorley businessman and two churches team up to help feed the homeless

A Chorley businessman has stepped in to help two churches continue feeding the town's homeless during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 6:00 am
Craig Willetts set up national Facebookgroup People Volunteering to Assist the Vulnerable During Coronavirus (Covid-19)on Facebook earlier this month to help thosein need.

Craig Willetts set up national Facebook group People Volunteering to Assist the Vulnerable During Coronavirus (Covid-19) on Facebook earlier this month to help those in need.

Now the group, which has amassed more than 600 members in just a few weeks, is donating 30 hot takeaway meals to both St Laurence's Church and Chorley United Reformed Church, which run soup kitchens.

St Laurence's in Union Street feeds rough sleepers on Mondays from 5-30 - 6-30pm while United Reformed in Hollinshead Street supports them on Thursdays from 5 - 6pm.

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Commenting on the strength of the Facebook group, Craig said: "Facebook can be terrible but it can also be amazing - and nothing creates community like panic.

"After all this mess is over, we hope we'll have a support system in place that could last permanently."

Craig was inspired to set up the group after helping to care for his own father and working with charities for three years.

In just a few weeks, it has amassed at least 150 volunteers nationwide - with a whopping 40% being from Lancashire, says Craig.

Thanks to its sheer manpower, it was able to step in to provide vital helping hands when the St Laurence scheme lost around half of its volunteers, who are elderly or vulnerable, and self-isolating.

The church has been supporting the homeless, as well as people on benefits, and those living in hostels or struggling to feed their children, for the past eight years.

It normally offers a three-course sit-down meal with unlimited brews and bread and butter in its cafe.

The Rev. Mo Baldwin said: "It is a humbling, beautiful thing but we thought we wouldn't be able to run it again because of the lock-down.

"We all sat down and tried to find a way to make it happen because people are struggling out there and we wanted to make sure they'd still be fed.

"That's when we decided to offer hot meals to take away. We don't know how it's going to go in the future, because the situation is changing day-by-day."

Brenda Lambert, co-founder of the United Reformed's Open Kitchen, says the church has also replaced a sit-down meal service with a takeaway scheme.

Commenting on the impact of the virus outbreak on people living on the streets, Brenda said: "I think a lot of them are really frightened.

"I think it's going to have a humongous effect on them, especially our guests with mental health issues. It's a very worrying time for them.

"Many come to us for fellowship, to feel wanted, to get advice, have a shoulder to cry on, and to feel safe and warm."

Several local businesses have also jumped on board and gone above and beyond to help the Facebook group in its mission, adds Craig.

Lost Bar & Club in Fazackerly Street, Chorley, has opened its doors for the distribution of food to the vulnerable while UK K9 Security Group in Preston is helping to deliver shopping to older people.

"The elderly got us through wars so the least we can do is their shopping," said Craig.

"Knowing they are not completely isolated could make a big difference."

The businessman has even set up a national 24-hour support service using a self-referral system for anything that vulnerable people might require, including weekly phone calls and security checks. Bluegrain Security in Manchester will help to provide support for referrals that are made after 10pm.

The Facebook group also delivers Calpol and nappies to struggling mums.

For more information, search for People Volunteering to Assist the Vulnerable During Coronavirus (Covid-19) on Facebook.

If you can help, please register to become a volunteer at https://cawapps.wufoo.com/forms/q12aj8r61nz8y69/

Or to apply for assistance, please visit https://cawapps.wufoo.com/forms/q1nstbxp1l7z3tg/

To make a financial donation to St Laurence's soup kitchen, please contact the Rev. Mo Baldwin on [email protected] or 01257 231 360.

Donations of toilet roll and hand gel for the homeless, or cupboard essentials like tea and coffee are being welcomed by United Reformed's Open Kitchen. To arrange a drop-off, please call 01257 266 024.