Community volunteers offer help to the needy just as it’s needed

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Community volunteers offer help to the needy just as it’s needed

Faith and welfare groups step up to support housebound and vulnerable people, as organisations distributing food report 'an exponential number of new referrals daily'

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Efforts have been drastically stepped up to help the vulnerable
Efforts have been drastically stepped up to help the vulnerable

Hundreds of Jewish community members volunteered to support isolated individuals this week amid government advice on coronavirus as charities said they were receiving a huge increase in calls for help with food and mental health.

Religious groups and welfare organisations stepped up to support the housebound and vulnerable as those distributing food and support packages said they were receiving “an exponential number of new referrals daily”.

GIFT, which runs volunteering opportunities such as collecting shopping, driving, tutoring, distributing food and undertaking hospital visits, said it expects demand to double in the coming weeks.

It said it had also been approached by several Jewish schools to help if schools close, as expected. It is hoping to provide lunch packs for children who would normally receive free school meals, in the event of school closures in England. As of Wednesday afternoon, only schools in Wales and Scotland were to close.

The charity is asking for funding rather than donations, owing to a lack of distribution points following synagogue closures, while at Jewish Care, back office staff have been redeployed to support catering staff producing Meals on Wheels.

A series of helplines have been set up, including one from the United Synagogue (0208-3435696) and one from Lecheris (0300-303-4747), which operates predominantly in the Orthodox community of Stamford Hill.

Jewish News and the Board of Deputies printed ‘Can I Help?’ cards for neighbours offering to help anyone unable to leave their home. The cards are posted through letterboxes, alerting occupants to the volunteer’s name, address, phone number, and what they can help with, such as collect groceries or talk by phone.

The Jewish Volunteering Network said there were “new opportunities specifically related to Covid-19 such as running errands, food shopping, and collecting medicine,” as GIFT said it had been “flooded” by offers of help from 600 volunteers.

“Our community seems likely to suffer significantly in the coming weeks and months,” it said. “As a matter of urgent priority we have put into immediate effect newly created plans to support the needs of the community, especially those in the greatest need, the elderly and most vulnerable.”

It said its Giving Hub was still open as volunteers work in shifts throughout the day to distribute food and support packages to hundreds of households in London and Manchester, with “an exponential number of new referrals daily”.

Volunteers who normally visit homes and care homes will instead call or video-call, with care packages being “made for front-line staff to keep morale high, volunteer shopping and virtual tutoring to replace the Sunday morning tutoring club”.

GIFT director Michelle Barnett said the charity would have “a major part to play in the coming months,” adding that it been approached by Jewish organisations such as United Synagogue, Jewish Care and mental health charity JAMI, which this week said it had seen “a rapid increase in demand for our support”.

Speaking to Jewish News on Wednesday afternoon, Barnett said: “Lots of people have lost their jobs already. We’ve had five new referrals in the last hour.”

She said that within the first hour of creating a new volunteers’ support group, they were “flooded with hundreds of people wanting to sign up and give… Over 600 volunteers have now signed up to help and volunteering opportunities are being snapped up by the second… Today, more than ever in the last 15 years, our vision of a world full of givers is one we all now need.”

GIFT founder Rabbi Naftali Schiff said: “We do not know where this pandemic will take us, but we will be doing all that we possibly can to make life for the community easier and relieve some of the strain of isolation for those most vulnerable.”

At Golders Green Synagogue (GGS), volunteers set up a ‘Self-Isolating Support Scheme’ run by the shul’s welfare team, with volunteers phoning to check in with those in isolation. The synagogue said it had had “an influx” of offers of help. “It’s more important than ever to support those in our community who are isolated or anxious at this difficult time,” said Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski.

In Leeds, Jewish MP Alex Sobel established a database of local volunteers, with
more than 1,200 responding to the appeal. “The Government isn’t doing enough to ensure vital supplies make it to vulnerable people,” he said. “It falls to local community groups to take the initiative.”

Board president Marie van der Zyl said the Jewish community must “find coping mechanisms to deal with the scale of challenge,” adding: “We all need to dig deep and play our part.”


Communal groups organise themselves to help others

• The UNITED SYNAGOGUE has set up a helpline operating between 9am and 5pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 1pm on Fridays, while several synagogues have set up live streaming for those who cannot get there to watch and listen to Shabbat services.

• The BOARD OF DEPUTIES has sent out ‘Can I Help?’ cards for those offering to help

others who are self-isolating. The cards are filled out and posted through letterboxes, alerting the occupants to the volunteer’s name, address and what they are offering to do, such as help collect groceries or simply to talk on the phone.

• The JEWISH VOLUNTEERING NETWORK said there would be “opportunities

specifically related to COVID-19 such as run- ning errands, food shopping, and collecting medicine for the vulnerable”.
• At GOLDERS GREEN SYNAGOGUE, Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski set up a ‘Self-Iso- lating Support Scheme’ run by its welfare team. The synagogue already runs a meal rota to support congregants who have new

babies or are sitting shiva, and this will
now be expanded, with volunteers phoning regularly to check in with those in isolation, particularly the elderly.
• In LEEDS, Jewish MP Alex Sobel has established a database of local volunteers “to ready our community for quarantine, to help people isolated by the coronavirus outbreak”.

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