Food For All – The End of an Era: Dionne

Emergency food response volunteer

I’ve been asked to write a piece for the Annual Report but am fearful that it won’t translate correctly as everything has become historical and hazy now. Details blurred and I cannot recall many details or be sure that I have the timeline in the correct order.

All I can say is that Covid-19 without a doubt changed the world. It changed attitudes, opinions, daily working life, family dynamics and added a great deal of pressure and stress to many.

In my instance, my job description, job security and job title all changed.

All of a sudden we had to be swaddled in restrictive PPE, masks on, gloves on, hands washed and sanitiser applied every 20 minutes or so. Surfaces sprayed and wiped to the sound of the regular timer. Any goods that came into the unit had to be sprayed and wiped with anti-bac to minimise any risk of cross contamination. Spare clothes had to be brought in as we now had to have indoor and outdoor clothes. Coverings had to be worn on our shoes. I remember asking myself if this was actually going to be effective at stopping any of us from transporting this deadly airborne disease and wondered if we would be any better off wearing hazmat suits to do our food prep!

Our staff team has always been very professional, we have banter and common things to talk about, but now we were a team in one of the few sectors that was allowed to stay open and be operational while many businesses closed, either furloughing staff or letting them go.

I do remember feeling that something awful yet extraordinary was taking place and as much as I was unsure, I was grateful that I still had purpose, a job to get up for and an income that was unaffected.

The biggest part of the pandemic for me was those first few months – the sandwich bags we made for the boxing charity to distribute became little lunches of hope, as simple as they were I tried to pack each one with a little bit of dignity and put a smile inside. There was no way I wanted the recipient to feel any shame in having to eat one of the lunches due to themselves or their families experiencing food poverty.

As the weeks progressed and we started to make hot meals, this is when things really, literally and metaphorically heated up – the summer was arriving, pans were on the stove, food was roasting in the oven and the amount of volunteers we had joining us in the kitchen increased (kudos to Tara for excellent recruitment).

At this point, after a good few weeks of understanding our new purpose, the kitchen
had become a hub of hope, filled with an array of our brilliant staff team and amazing volunteers. The volunteers who arrived were like an army of strong warriors, many of them were furloughed staff, or newly redundant or students who could no longer attend University, the energy, compassion and enthusiasm they bought into the kitchen and our daily working life was effervescent and I will always be humbled by their ‘Can Do’ and ‘What’s Next?’ attitudes.

As the summer went on, some of the volunteers moved on due to their own changing Covid-affected circumstances and we got a new ‘batch’ in. Equally as impressive and willing to get the work done and I felt honoured to have been part of that and their experience; us all working towards alleviating the stress and shame of people in the local and wider Manchester areas who were experiencing food poverty by providing them with what was hopefully tasty, nutritious and healthy food.

At this point now, after the summer, things really start to get hazy for me – I think my mind had stopped placing flags onto key events as all of this was hugely important to me.

I am a stickler for resisting change and I was in mourning for the previous incarnation of my job. My Good Mood Food role before the pandemic was a really nice job! I had the realisation that now my job was a necessary one and I had to step outside of my comfort zone and understand that my working life at Manchester Mind was never going to be the same again.

Throughout the pandemic, I have seen my close colleagues, namely Jules, Nima and Jane shine, their determination to carry on each day, adapting and changing to the needs of our service users while juggling their own personal situations and circumstances has been absolutely brilliant. Their friendships, empathy and general all round existence has helped me to keep my mental health in check during the pandemic.
Darren also needs a special mention, his adaptations to the working day during the pandemic were tremendous! He took on many diverse roles with vigour and without complaint, he is a true and almost silent hero of our team.

Also knowing that the management team for our project, Sharon, Clare, Elizabeth have been doing all they can behind the scenes to ensure that our project can continue to run in new and changing formats has given me a sense of stability and security that I am able to assist the wider community and also receive a salary to keep my own family and home afloat.

My working life has changed dramatically and probably for the better as I have realised that I have been able to uncover some old skills that had been buried and discover some new skills that I can put to good use.

The pandemic has been a time of great uncertainty but one also of discovery, I have learnt that there is no shame in asking for help, I have learnt that there are many who need help and many more who needed help way before the pandemic.

And I also know that if there are any opportunities to help enrich someone else’s life with empathy, knowledge or plain simple kindness, then this I will do, as this is what I am given and it is helping to enrich my own life.

Dionne – former Delivery Driver with Good Mood Food, now Kitchen Assistant for Food For All

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