Since closing the office in March, we’ve had to think creatively about how we continue to do things to benefit and support our clients whilst adjusting to working from home.
One of the main activities we do each month is the Free Shop where a team of volunteers kindly offer their time to come to the Boaz office to help set up shop. Clients can then come and choose from a selection of fresh veg / fruit, staple foods and toiletries. And not to forget, enjoy a cup of tea, a chat and some delicious homemade cakes made by our wonderful volunteer, Chris!
As we were no longer able to have clients come to the office, instead we went out to take the food and toiletries directly to their houses. It has been a journey and a lot of trial and error figuring the best way to do this! In the very early stages of lockdown, we were able to partner with a local organisation who made weekly food deliveries to our shared houses. This was a lifesaver. But as the weeks progressed, we wanted to make sure that the food was tasty, varied and nutritious and that it would allow clients to cook the kind of meals they enjoyed. We then decided to go for bulk buying at a local wholesalers as well as getting a regular supermarket delivery to top up the rapidly reducing donations of food and toiletries we were able to receive. This was a big job to manage (buying / transporting / storing food and then getting it to our multiple houses across Manchester) and it soon came to light that it was probably not the best nor most efficient way of doing things!
During the second half of the summer, we have been so blessed to have the support and funding to be able to provide additional food money for the clients and so we didn’t need to provide many additional food or toiletries for a couple of months. This gave us a chance to get helpful feedback from clients and staff so that we could come up with a new plan.
We have now started our alternative Free Shop again and I think we’ve finally got it figured out! We have 43 clients who have no recourse to public funds and who can't work or claim benefits, and they are living in 11 shared houses spread across Manchester. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of goods to be sourced, stored, sorted and transported in a Covid-secure way! Rather than it being a (rather stressful) one day task, we have now split the work over a few days for the buying, sorting and transporting. Our client support workers take 2 days to deliver the goods to 'their' houses and ensure they spend some meaningful time with the clients who need to speak to them at the same time. We're looking forward to working with some of our volunteers as well in the months ahead, now that we've figured out how we can keep everyone as safe as possible.
Due to Covid, it’s been more difficult for us to receive physical donations of food and toiletries, and so instead we have been grateful to receive financial donations specifically for these basic essentials. These gifts have been an amazing help to us with the organising and buying of goods. So thank you very much to everyone who has contributed to supporting the Free Shop!
We very much miss our monthly Free Shops as they gave an opportunity where we could gather together, catch up and have a laugh with our volunteers and clients, but for now we are very thankful we are still able to serve our clients in the best way we can ensuring their basic needs are met.
-Lisa Lee, Office and Reception Manager.