Monday, 25 May 2020
A CORONAVIRUS support group in Sonning Common has helped more than 500 people since the lockdown began in March.
SOCO Coronavirus Support was established by villager Mathew White after he realised how hard it would be for people in isolation to get food and other essential items.
It is helping people in the village as well as Kidmore End, Gallowstree Common and Rotherfield Peppard.
Mr White, 41, is supported by Mick and Claire Sugg, who run the Hare & Hounds pub in Woodlands Road, and about 40 active volunteers.
They shop and pick up prescriptions and newspapers for other residents as well as delivering food boxes to the needy and the food bank at Springwater Church in Blounts Court Road, Peppard.
They have also established an online fund to pay for essential items from wholesalers, which are then delivered in boxes to people who request them.
So far more than 150 people have donated to the fund, which stands at about £5,000. The total includes a £500 grant from the Anthony (Tony) Lane Foundation, which was set up in memory of the former Mayor of Henley and is providing emergency funding to organisations tackling the effects of the pandemic.
Each person who receives a box paid for by the fund is encouraged to make a donation so other people can receive support and the service can continue.
The Suggses collect food and other items for the boxes from wholesalers such as Makro and Costco in Reading.
Mr White, who lives with his wife Helen and their children Ben, 11, and Amy, nine, in Orchard Avenue, said: “Claire and Mick have been incredible. They deal with all the fresh fruit and veg and because they run a pub they can access all these big cash and carry wholesalers.
“I give them a big list of stuff and they then go and get it for us. Without them it wouldn’t happen.”
The Suggses give Mr White their receipts and he reimburses them with money from the fund.
Volunteers then divide the goods into four different types of box ready to deliver to residents who request them through the group’s Facebook page or phone number.
The boxes are:
• Dried goods such as tea, coffee, sugar and pasta.
• Fruit and vegetables, eggs, milk and bread from Dudmans of Berkshire in Emmer Green.
• Hygiene goods such as loo roll, soaps, bin bags and toothpaste, among other items.
• Donated goods such as homemade cakes, muffins and biscuits made by villagers who want to lift people’s spirits during the lockdown.
Some have also contained children’s rainbow drawings emailed to Mr White by parents to help cheer people up.
All the food is checked against people with allergies.
Many of the boxes are packed at Sonning Common Free Church in Grove Road. Pastor Bruce Jenkins offered the space because the church is not being used.
Lauren Densham, a member of the congregation who helps with the packing, said: “It’s a lift to receive a box of goods and some homemade cakes and to know that people are thinking of you.
“I know of a couple of health workers who are working really long hours and are absolutely exhausted.”
Mrs Densham, who lives with her husband Ben and their children Reuben, 10, Eliana, eight, Toby, six and Noah, four, in Newfield Road, Sonning Common, added: “It’s a real honour to be involved and as a stay-at-home mum with four children I have the time to do this.
“Being a Christian, I wanted to be able to show love to other people and do that in a really practical way. That’s what Jesus says we should do. I’m doing deliveries for about three or four people on a regular basis. I also have regular phone calls.”
Several other people help pack the food boxes and Tony Perry from the church team delivers some of the goods in a van.
Tamryn and Keith Settle, of Grove Road, Sonning Common, responded to an appeal by Mr White on Facebook for volunteers to help pack boxes.
Mrs Settle, a sports coach whose husband teaches maths at Shiplake College, said: “We have all got a bit of extra time and want to use it by helping out the community and each other.”
Louisa Trussler, who lives in Ashford Avenue with her children, received a food delivery organised by Mrs Densham, who is a friend.
This comprised loo roll, bread, milk, tomatoes, new potatoes, lettuce, coffee, tea, sugar, pasta and cakes.
Ms Trussler, who is a cake decorator, said: “I was really surprised when I saw my massive box. It had everything I could need.
“I came home and was really tired and saw that and thought ‘that was really thoughtful’. Lauren wanted to support me and I’m really grateful.”
She made brownies and shortbread for a food box to say thank you and also made a sponge cake for Mr White.
Ms Trussler said: “If it wasn’t for people like Mat organising this I don’t think anyone else would. It has helped so many people.
“People like health workers and those who are single on their own — people that you know will be really struggling.”
Mr White, a regional manager for a business finance firm, said: “I didn’t anticipate this much need. Now, several weeks in, I would have thought either the supermarkets would have sorted themselves out or people could have received official Government support.
“I’m not trying to be political, I’m just surprised. I often wonder how people would have managed if we hadn’t stepped up to help.
“The people of Sonning Common are fortunate they have such a great community to support them.”
Mr White said it had been hard to organise supplies at the beginning of the lockdown because of people panic buying.
He said: “We got to a point where we were getting swamped with requests and the shops didn’t have anything in them.
“We couldn’t get fruit and veg so that’s when we came up with a better system.”
At first Mr White only had a pay-as-you-go phone and was trying to log everyone’s calls and requests himself.
He soon realised he needed help and villagers Fiona Allnutt, Hannah Staples and Helen Coyne responded to an appeal.
He also partnered with the Fish volunteer centre, a charity in the village that provides transport to people in need.
Now its volunteers receive calls from people requesting help from the support group. Mr White said: “When someone rings in, we are able to dish the call out as we have two or three people answering the phone for us.
“We are logging all messages and calls and information like what they need and their telephone number and who the request has been allocated to.
“!t’s working really well now it’s managed and if I needed to take off for an afternoon to do some work I could.
“The number of individual jobs stands at more than 500 but some people might have used us three or four times.”
Mr White said people who received boxes were always appreciative, especially before the Easter weekend when he was contacted by parents who had not been able to buy their children chocolate eggs.
He was able to source 200 eggs on Easter Saturday and deliver more than 120 of them to families in the village.
Mr White said: “At the start, some of the feedback was pretty emotional because people were really scared about how they were going to get their prescriptions and get out.
“You hear the relief from people every time you speak to them — they say ‘you’re doing a wonderful job’.
“I just wanted to help out really and realised people were going to get stuck.
“I didn’t expect it to be nearly as busy as it is. If you had told me then that we would be doing all these food boxes I would have laughed at you.
“If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would. There is never a shortage of volunteers. I have no doubt at all that there’s plenty of people out there.”
To make an order, call 07468 004541 or email socohelpers@
To donate to the village fund, visit https://bit.ly/3buflm3
18 May 2020
ITS doors may be shut to diners for the time ... [more]
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