Volunteer Stories: Intuitive volunteer has seen that lack of access to food during COVID-19 is part of a bigger challenge

This blog is part of a series that celebrates the stories of volunteers during #VolunteersWeek2020. The amazing people across Leeds that volunteered as Community Care Volunteers in response COVID-19 have made supporting vulnerable people across Leeds possible. Read their stories and find out more about the people who have been uplifting their communities.

Sara Smithson is an active person in her local community. On top of the 16 hour job that Sara has at EPIC, she is also a scout leader but all her activities were brought to an abrupt end because of the COVID-19 outbreak. She has since become a Community Care Volunteer, where she volunteers with Groundwork to support vulnerable people with food and good chat.

Sara has two children, 14 year old Ben and 16 year old Jodi. Sara explains how the current situation has given her the opportunity to spend quality time with both of her children and how it has been a learning opportunity for everyone.


Sara, with son Ben, receiving award for completing 100 Community Care Volunteering tasks


Why did you decide to become a Community Care Volunteer?

“I need to keep bus. I have two children who are both out of school. They have been helping me. It’s been such a great experience for them.

“Both of my children are really well received by the families [during food deliveries]. They see teenagers who are willing to help, and that’s a really good experience for them to.”


How did you find the process of becoming a volunteer?

“I got an email from Ann Crossland at Voluntary Action Leeds (VAL). I find the VAL member updates that she sends out very useful.”


What volunteer role are you doing? And what does this entail?

“Each day I sign in via message to Groundwork to say I am available. They send me contact details of the person I am to visit. I will call round get the shopping lists. I do the shop and take it back. Volunteers work within postcode areas, so you get to know some of the people.”


Sara, with son Ben, receiving award for completing 100 Community Care Volunteering tasks

Sara explains some of the people she meets on a daily basis are genuinely very scared. She is often the only person some people have interacted with all day, so she always takes time to have a brief chat and check that they are okay.

Sara was speaking to one woman recently and as they were chatting, Sara noticed that she was struggling for words. She thought that possibly the woman had had a stroke or some medical reason as to why she was speaking in such a way. After a while the woman confided in her that the reason she was struggling for words was because she had not spoken to anybody in nine weeks.

Sara explains that social interaction has disappeared for many people - that boredom is almost as much of a problem as access to food.

WF3 Kindness is a project run by Dan from the Morley Lions. Sara is already chatting to him about what happens after COVID-19. They have been talking about creating lunch clubs to foster friendships and peer support, introduce people to each other in order to combat loneliness, and reignite self-sufficiency within communities. Sarah says it’s really important that we trust older people are able to help themselves! She says an often repeated phrase to her is ‘I’ve been through the war, I can do anything!’.


What does a normal day as a Community Care Volunteer entail?

Sara says; “You will have some older people who are just set in a routine and only want the same brands that they know and trust. There are other people who may suffer from autism, be totally self-sufficient living on their own, but at a point of lockdown may find it difficult to communicate their needs. Everyone’s needs are unique.”

Sara explained how she dropped a food parcel to a young man living on his own, then the second week he peered cautiously into the bag. It slowly dawned on Sara that he may have had some mild learning difficulties, and was not capable of creating a meal out of the food that was in the bag. The man needed easy meals that he could microwave or reheat rather than the complications of cooking a meal. Sara was able to recognise this, talk to him about it and then they were able to meet his needs.

Further to this, Sara highlights other groups who equally may struggling with a lack of food choice; people with eating disorders, people with learning difficulties, in addition to people with medical needs such as diabetes.

Sara, with son Ben, receiving award for completing 100 Community Care Volunteering tasks


How has volunteering during the COVID-19 crisis made you feel?

Sara’s son Ben says that volunteering has also opened his eyes to wider poverty. He explained that he is more conscious when he is in town with his mates of homeless people around him, he will always make an effort to go and chat to people and learn more about the situation. Speaking about volunteering Ben said; “I feel better, happy to know that I’ve helped out, and it means I’m not bored”


What’s your message for anyone thinking about volunteering?

Sara says; “Absolutely do it. It will be the best thing you ever do and it opens up a whole new world and viewpoint that enriches your life.

“Even when COVID-19 has gone, social care need will be so much higher. We need to harness  volunteering for the future too”.


The Community Care Volunteering programme is not currently accepting applications from new volunteers but there are still lots of other volunteering opportunities available in Leeds. To find out more, please visit https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/i-want-to-volunteer/

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