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Stepping up

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By Fiona Reid
Front
Stepping up

A CHARITY boss has praised the bravery of volunteers who stepped on to the frontline of Dumfries and Galloway’s community response to coronavirus.

Food Train regional manager Helen McAnespie has thanked all who have supported them to ensure older people locally could get critical shopping supplies.

Over the last year the charity has faced unprecedented demand fuelled by lockdown and the order for vulnerable groups to shield in their homes.

Deliveries in Dumfries and Galloway spiked at 127 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels and remained high since.

Volunteers are currently delivering just over 500 orders across the region – where it has in excess of 700 customers – each week.

Helen said: “The people who came forward to help really were brave.

“I don’t know, hand on heart, whether I’d have done the same as them. I had to go to the shops, or the office, because it was my job and I had to be there to support our volunteers and staff.

“If that hadn’t been my job I like to think I’d have helped, but I’m not sure I’d have done the same, especially in those early days when none of us were sure what we were dealing with.

“It blows me away to think that people were willing to do all that they did. They ensured we turned no-one who asked for support away.”

One of the challenges for Food Train was that its volunteer numbers initially fell, with many of its established team having to shield because they were older and classed as vulnerable.

Among those who stepped forward to boost the ranks were Sandra and Barry Fitzgerald from Brydekirk.

Sandra, 58, had only recently retired from the NHS as the pandemic took hold. Barry, 69, is a former social worker.

She said: “In particular drivers were in short supply, and it seemed to make sense to us as a couple to go out on the delivery van together, so that if we did get unwell, at least we wouldn’t take out another team.”

The pair remain volunteers with the Annandale and Eskdale branch and urge others to get involved too. Explaining some of the highlights from their time, Sandra added: “The standout moments for me have just been getting to know our customers and hearing how much they value the service.

“It really is a lifeline for many of the most vulnerable in our community. Most people are very friendly and like to have a wee chat while we are delivering their shopping.

“To anyone thinking of volunteering, I would say that it really is a worthwhile service, and you will feel that you are giving something back to the community.

“Food Train look after their volunteers and, you never know, but you may need a service like this at some point in the future yourself.”

Helen is proud of the way the region has responded to support others and is looking forward to in-person befriending services being able to restart as soon as it is safe.

She added: “We can’t thank the volunteers and the staff of the shopping service enough for all they have done in the past year. We couldn’t have helped older people across the region in the way we’ve been able to without our amazing volunteers.”

Food Train was established in Dumfries almost 26 years ago and now operates across nine regions of Scotland. It is widely acclaimed for its work in tackling malnutrition and loneliness among the over-65s.

To find out more email [email protected] or call 0800 3047924. To register as a volunteer, go to www.thefoodtrain.co.uk.

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