Written by Ella Martin - 19/08/2020
When I was due to be furloughed during the pandemic, I was eager to get involved with something else so I could still leave the house. I had no idea how much was ahead. I started at Scran Academy on the day lockdown was announced and from then on it was full steam ahead. It was interesting for me because I came at this project from a food & beverage background- having never worked in the charity sector before. I had (what felt like) an endless amount to learn, but a lot of it was instinctive and with the help of the Scran team and all the volunteers, it felt natural and feasible.
We carried on and just took it day by day. As our numbers were exponentially growing, we had to go pretty fast to keep up. This involved development of the system on all sides of Scran Meals: kitchen, packaging, back office etc. For me, this meant considering things we hadn’t before. We needed to create an allergy system that was safe and effective, we had to put in place a staggered delivery structure so that social distancing could be maintained on pick up and we needed to enlist the help of a huge team of volunteers to come in and help us package up the food. It was a tall order, but we managed it. Once everything was in place it was just a case of getting used to the demand and doing what we could to streamline the model.
My day would begin by sanitising all areas that staff and volunteers came into contact with-door handles, railings, crates etc. Then I’d get the menu for the day and get my head around how much of each meal was to be portioned. I would set the volunteers off with their portioning and the quantities needed. After that, I would be transferring allergy information on to the relevant bags and getting the delivery lists in order. Once all of the food was portioned up and labels were on lids, I would oversee the volunteers packing up the food. This was always the busiest part of the day and with people needing to cross over the sports hall, safety was crucial here. Often we would send out additional items with deliveries (leaflets, sweet treats, dental packs etc) so I would organise them in to bags to go out with each driver. After this was all laid out in the hall, I would go through and check every box and every allergy bag to ensure the numbers were correct and we wouldn’t have drivers falling short. One thing I didn’t predict was the development of my mental maths during this period.
The rest of the day was usually spent clearing up, sanitising and conversing with drivers about any concerns or changes to their routes. If somebody didn’t answer, we were following up by calling to check they were okay. The drivers built profound relationships with the people on their routes and hearing the depth of which they got to know each other was really touching.
Coming in every day and feeling the buzz in the atmosphere was unmatched. We were astonished by how enthusiastic the volunteers were, from people asking for extra shifts to staying behind after the deliveries to clean up- they genuinely put everything in to it. I think we all enjoyed feeling like we were a small cog in a huge operation, and there was an immense amount of satisfaction seeing the thousands of meals ready to go out to recipients and alleviate a little bit of stress from their lives. Lockdown was stressful enough on an individual level, I know first hand that some of the volunteers were really struggling and so the fact that they still all were there to help us, and more importantly help the community was absolutely noble.
Of course, there were difficult days. Whilst we were proud of what we were achieving, it was also deeply upsetting that this service was even needed in the first place, and as numbers went up and up we started to get to grips with the reality of the effect of the pandemic and saw how many people really needed us. It was unnerving and hard to face, but clearly very necessary to many people around the city.
Now, things are much calmer. The delivery list has been slowly decreasing and as shielding is lifted, people are able to get out and about more and more. We’re finishing deliveries in a couple of weeks and are in the process of getting ready to move to our new office and get back to our youth development programs. The Scran Meals Scheme has helped over 3350 people over the previous months, and I’m definitely one of them. I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity to give back and for the people I’ve met along the way.