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Fair Frome – a year on from the start of the pandemic

Fair Frome, like the rest of the country and world, has had a challenging but ultimately successful year, thanks to the strength of the local community. 

The charity said, “Like everyone else we had no idea what was ahead of us at this time last year. As the realisation grew of the catastrophe that was looming, the first challenge was that many of our existing volunteers had to leave because of their own health issues or shielding partners or family members. 

“At the same time, calls surged for our services, especially the food bank which saw demand treble over the first three months. With the help of the local community, we were able to rise to meet the challenge. 

“New volunteers came forward, local individuals, businesses, charities and councils supported us with cash and food supplies and we adapted our services and outreach to ensure staff, volunteers and customers were kept as safe as possible. 

“We made a very early decision to keep our doors open, when many closed, in order to provide not just practical support but emotional support as well to those many people whose mental health was suffering through loneliness, ill health , homelessness and poverty. 

“It also became apparent very quickly that many people who had never experienced unemployment or poverty and were being forced to use our services for the first time.

“Some of the existing and new services we have provided over the past year to respond to the pandemic include:

• Our Food Bank received 1,224 referrals over the past year, an increase of 33% over last year, and delivered food either via the regular sessions or to those families shielding during lockdowns with additional fresh food.

• Giving out over 2,000 vouchers through the food bank for fresh fruit and veg from a local shop and starting a similar scheme for fresh meat from a local butcher in January this year

• Providing over 100 hot meals every week in 3 different areas of the town, free to anyone on benefits or low income.

• Holiday Hunger provided an average of 30 meals per session 3 times per week in school holidays combined with activities. Free to children with families on low incomes

• Furniture Bank provided free white goods and household furniture to referred families. 

• Provided over 50 laptops through schools and the Frome Learning Partnership for children being home schooled.

• Assistance Scheme: Providing, school uniforms, cookers, fridges and many other essential items to referred families. Frome Lions, Rotary and local businesses have worked with us to provide funding for the more expensive items.

• Food for Schools; during lockdowns delivered additional food parcels to Frome schools for families on Free School Meals.

• Given Supermarket Gift tokens via schools to over 800 children on Free School Meals during 3 school holidays allowing families to “Shop with dignity and choice”.

• Brought together other local agencies and community groups regularly to identify concerns and find solutions around poverty and homelessness.

• Supplied Christmas presents and toys to referred families as well as over 300 extra Christmas Food parcels.

• Supported local businesses through our purchasing and voucher schemes.

• Campaigned on issues relating to local poverty, including the retention of Free school Meals during school holidays and with the local Citizens Advice to provide a benefits system which meets local needs. Also campaigned for better access to local businesses and shops for those with hidden or visible disabilities.

Bob Ashford Chair of Trustees said, “The past year has changed our lives in so many ways. 

“Many people in Frome were already struggling with poverty and health issues before the pandemic hit us and we have seen at first hand the new challenges people have been faced with. 

“We also know that these challenges will unfortunately remain with us and probably grow as we go forward. 

“We couldn’t do our work without the support we receive from our amazing local community, our staff and volunteers and those many individuals, businesses, churches, community groups, local Councils and too many others to mention. 

“With this strength and support we know we can continue to do everything we can to provide the support which is vital to so many people”

Picture: Fair Frome coordinators Lenka Grimes and Alison Blofeld in the Food Bank.

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