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April 29, 2020

Don’t Call Me Old project adapts rapidly to change

During my time running the Time to Shine funded Don’t Call Me Old project based at Armley Helping Hands, I have had many moments of joy, happiness and pride, not only in the project, but in the amazing people who take part in it.

The volunteers, who in most cases have travelled a great distance in their personal lives and battled many issues, including abuse and mental health problems, have truly been an inspiration to members and to me.

This year has presented a challenge no one could ever have expected. For the first time in its 25-year history, Armley Helping Hands was forced to stop its delivery to our vulnerable members.

We decided to ring them all – a mammoth task. It took nearly two days for me to contact the members of the Don’t Call Me Old project, and I realised I needed a better way to do this.

I am amazingly lucky to have a cohort of volunteers who give above and beyond what is asked of them. I asked four of them a simple question: would they be willing to call a group of ten members each to offer a befriending service. All the volunteers said they would love to help.

Our members were keen to take part, and let me share some basic information. With ground rules in place for everyone, phone calls were soon being made.

What no one was prepared for was the amount of calls we received (and still do) from people who were self-isolating, or were in one of the protected categories, and couldn’t go out of their house.

We run a food bank as part of the Don’t Call Me Old project. Using our stocks to deliver around 50 food parcels, I soon had to arrange collection of supplies from local closed food banks. This was over a ton of food – a huge challenge to move. We were then offered food from other agencies, but only if we could pick it up.

I asked some of our other volunteers to come and help staff – realistically the only way we could continue to operate. With gloves and masks provided by the council, and everyone given thorough guidance regarding social distancing and hygiene within the centre, we arranged tables and stacked the food to allow us to pick the food bundles.

Over a month into the crisis and we are still receiving food from different suppliers, which we sort and hand out to people who are struggling. We’re averaging over 400 food bundles, on top of our regular weekly food bank, which currently deals with over 30 tickets a session.

My role has changed immensely to more of a warehouse managing role, ensuring stock collection, rotation and distribution!

None of this work would be possible without our AMAZING volunteers, who have really stepped up to the mark and made all the work we are currently doing possible.

When this project closes I will consider myself blessed to have met people who put others ahead of themselves, turning up for work with a cheery disposition no matter what they are facing in their own personal lives. They have so much pride and dignity when they put on the Don’t Call Me Old shirts.

To all the volunteers: a massive and heartfelt thanks not only from me but all the members and clients who you help on a daily basis.

Mick Howard
Armley Helping Hands