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Monday, Jul 06, 2020

The people offering help as the virus spreads

Stories of people emptying supermarket shelves or arguing over packets of pasta can paint a bleak picture of the coronavirus outbreak. But there are also acts of kindness that have inspired thousands of others.

Beauty Banks, a charity that supplies essential toiletries to people in poverty, launched an emergency virus-related appeal on Sunday.

"Since just after noon yesterday we've raised £60,000 to pay for soap, hand sanitiser, washing powder and so on to help people who don't have the money to stockpile," said columnist Sali Hughes, who co-founded the campaign two years ago.

"Because we're an existing charity we work with suppliers already. We think we can get our hands on, certainly for the first drop, a lot of hand sanitiser for people who really, really need it."

Ms Hughes said because of the coronavirus outbreak people are more able to relate to the idea of not being able to get items they need.

"This is the first time lots of us have looked at shelves and thought actually I need something and I can't have it, and so they're better able to relate to people living in poverty who feel like that quite a lot of the time.

"I think it's really important in times of crisis, when people are doing something positive it does make you feel a little bit calmer and more in control. It certainly does me.

"I do think the act of giving just makes us feel better. It feels as though we're doing something, we're part of a collective effort."

In Altrincham, Greater Manchester, Rachel Pleasant is recruiting volunteers to help local residents who are elderly, vulnerable or stuck at home without any family or friends nearby. She and two others set up a Facebook group on Saturday.

"Before we know it we've had 2,000 people join the page and 3,500 messages of support saying please let us help. It's been amazing."

They have got hold of ward maps of the local area and have been divvying up streets to volunteers, who will visit residents and offer to run errands or pick up supplies.

"I think we just felt panic never solves anything, let's focus some of that energy on really helping the people in our community."

Facebook said more than 200,000 people in the UK are now members of more than 300 local support groups set up for the virus.

Brie Rogers Lowery, from the social media site, said it was "heartening" to see people rallying round.


'Darrell's memory'

The family of 88-year-old Darrell Blackley, who died at North Manchester General Hospital on Friday after testing positive for coronavirus, have asked people to carry out acts of kindness in his memory.

"We invite you to forget flowers and cards," said the message, written on behalf of his family.

"Instead we would like you to give acts of kindness. Help someone who is lonely or struggling during this time, who needs shopping, childcare or a chat.

"Post tiny acts of kindness given and received and share. Build something beautiful in Darrell's memory."

Ali Currie, from south London, said her two daughters, Scarlet, 10, and Grace, 12, posted handwritten notes to the houses on their road.

"They are pretty caring girls," she said. "We live in a really lovely neighbourhood which is full of great community spirit."

The family have received a few texts and handwritten notes in return and their elderly next door neighbour "said she will need some help at some point".

"It's been great to see kindness spread so fast and so far," said Becky Wass, whose separate postcard campaign aimed at helping people look out for their neighbours was shared widely on social media.

The postcard, which people can print at home, allows neighbours to offer to deliver shopping, drop off urgent supplies or talk on the phone, and gives the recipients their name and phone number to contact.

"The response has been incredible," said Ms Wass, from Falmouth in Cornwall. "I'm now hearing heartwarming stories from around the world about people connecting with their neighbours."

But it is not just thoughtful individuals who are helping others during the health crisis. Businesses - many of which are likely to suffer a hard time if social distancing measures increase - are also getting involved.

One hotel in Portaferry, County Down, said it is offering to deliver free dinners to elderly people who are unable to get to a supermarket or restaurant.

"These are unprecedented times and we are a close knit community; let's stick together and get through this together," the hotel said on Facebook.

Meanwhile, a grocers in Padstow is setting aside half an hour every day solely for shoppers who were born in 1950 or before.

The owner said he hoped it would give elderly shoppers "a little bit of peace of mind" in the fight against coronavirus.

Other cafes and shops are doing similar. A cafe in Glasgow's Southside is delivering soup to the elderly and people with underlying health issues, while a shop in Stenhousemuir is dropping off packages of hand gel to local pensioners.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has regularly expressed his gratitude to those trying to spread kindness.

He shared a video of a fitness instructor in Seville, in Spain, who held an exercise class for quarantined residents in an apartment block who joined in on their balconies.


"I am so impressed and inspired by all the examples of kindness and compassion people are showing around the world," said Dr Ghebreyesus.

"With this spirit, we can beat coronavirus."

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