I feel very fortunate that Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has given me the freedom to do this off my own back. I enjoy supporting others.
A food drive to help out the most vulnerable in the county during the coronavirus pandemic, spearheaded by a Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service employee, has surpassed £500,000 worth of items passed on.
When the lockdown began, Denise Rowe was seconded to the Civil Contingencies Unit, after usually working as a business development officer and the interim head of Safer Communities having been with the service for four years.
Her role there was to source PPE and other useful equipment for the fight against Covid-19.
Denise said: “I hit the ground running from day one after being asked to source and co-ordinate a huge variety of items including PPE and vehicles to mortuary equipment. This was a whole new world to me, however I quickly realised that these items were not going to be readily available or affordable to some of those asking so I used my previous skills and knowledge to think outside of the box.
“This continued to be my method throughout, proving successful, although at the same time some of the information and requests I dealt with on a daily basis had a dramatic impact on my emotions, so to overcome this I wanted to do something positive.
“I knew food would be the way forward. Applying the same methods I had some fantastic responses and since going back into my existing role at the end of August and continuing this on the side the total I have sourced and co-ordinated now stands at more than £500,000 worth of wholesale value food items. These continue to go to our most vulnerable and keyworkers, all being distributed through hard-working charitable organisations.”
Denise said she “firmly believes food is a way to reach and support our most in need”, and over the past 10 months has worked hard to maintain and build on some new partnerships with both donators and benefactors.
Her goal was simple – get whatever was needed to those who might need it via those who knew the sector better than she did.
“During the first lockdown there was a real shortage of goggles, face masks etc,” she continued. “As manufacturers were closing their bases they’d have loads of goggles not being used so I’d ring firms to seek help.
“The chief executive of Toyota UK donated a huge amount of goggles, when he knew what we were doing.”
And then the food started rolling in for her side project.
“Nestle supplied two lorries of goods,” Denise, who lives near Leek, adds. “About 10,000 Easter eggs came into the county. There was about £50,000 of other goods too – cereal bars, coffee, cereals etc. Muller and Warburtons have been fantastic too.
“JCB really supported with the food too. They contributed more than 35,000 ready meals. I was receiving 400 meals a day, plus sandwiches too, from Monday-to-Friday for 12 weeks.”
As well as those listed above, other donators to the cause include, so far, Ornua, Cottage Delight, Wrights Food Group, Fox's Biscuits, The Nationwide Caterers’ Association, Eurostar Global and Kerrigold. Together with others – including Unitas Stoke-on-Trent - they have helped provide £529,246 of goods to date in total, with more coming in on a weekly basis.
In the five months from September 2020 to January a further 86,000 meals for our most vulnerable communities were collected.
The organisations who have benefitted include The Hubb Foundation - Port Vale, community food banks and larders, The Salvation Army, Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, youth zones, Green Tree House in Biddulph, women’s refuges, University Hospitals North Midlands Trust, Douglas MacMillan Hospice in Stoke-on-Trent, the YMCA, schools, venues supporting the homeless and rough sleepers, care homes, prisons and young offenders’ institutions, West Midlands Ambulance Service, church groups and local community groups and organisations.
“We try to share it fairly,” Denise adds. “I’ve quietly carried this on and I feel very fortunate that Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has given me the freedom to do this off my own back. I enjoy supporting others.”
Her hard work has not gone unrecognised – Denise has been nominated for a Staffordshire High Sherriff’s Award for help given during the coronavirus pandemic. But she remains keen to ensure it is the work of those groups she is helping supply that gets recognised and not her own. “That’s not why I’ve been doing this,” she adds. “I’d rather other people get the recognition than me.”
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant said: “I want to thank, both personally and on behalf of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the tremendous support and ongoing generosity given during this pandemic.
“With these companies’ help and support, they made it possible for us to support Staffordshire’s most vulnerable communities and key workers. The impact has been incredible. There are more than 14,200 individuals who have benefited from their generosity and support.
“As a service we shall continue to offer support to our communities as the impact of Covid-19 continues to have a negative impact on the economic and social wellbeing within Staffordshire.”
Adam Yates, community business partner for The Hubb Foundation in Stoke-on-Trent, said: “We cannot express how grateful we are for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s support that has contributed to us delivering more than 99,000 meals since the first lockdown to the most vulnerable families in our city.”
And Katie Evans, deputy manager at Ladydale Care Home in Leek, added: “Thank you to Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service for all the wonderful donations that we have received at Ladydale. Our residents and staff have greatly appreciated your generosity at this difficult time.”