The Arboretum Cafe in Lincoln has provided over 2,500 free meals for children during lockdown, and that’s only the beginning.
Abbey Access Training, a charity based at the Arboretum Cafe on Monks Road, started making free school meals for disadvantaged children in Lincoln in January.
Since then, they have made over 400 meals a week, totalling more than 2,500 meals since the scheme began.
It initially began when the cafe applied for a coronavirus recovery grant during the first national lockdown last year, but they eventually took matters into their own hands.
A fundraiser was set up to help provide the meals, reaching a substantial £3,500 target in next to no time, before also being helped by local food banks and community champions.
Once a month, Asda deliver a shopping trolley full of goods for the cafe to use, and they’ve even expanded beyond simply cooking meals.
Each time a parent comes to collect their hamper, people are encouraged to help themselves to tinned foods and fresh fruit, as well as allowing the children to choose from various treats and books that have been donated.
An anonymous donation of £3,000 has been pledged to the Arboretum Cafe, who say that a total of £11,000 has been given to them from the public.
Sharron Emms has worked at the Arboretum Cafe and been a part of Abbey Access Training for four years, and says she has been overwhelmed by the response, but loves the challenge.
She told The Lincolnite: “We’ve always been the hub of the community, and we’ve found that this boosts people’s mental health as well as the obvious benefits of meals for children.
“We had to furlough some staff when the cafe was forced to close in lockdown, but they have now been volunteering as delivery drivers for parents who cannot make it to the cafe for collections.”
Sharron found that doing this project has been about far more than just providing food, but also building relationships too.
“We create bonds with everyone who comes through the door. Reaching out for help is an uncomfortable thing to do, so it is our job to not make them feel pressured.
“One particular person that stuck in my mind was a lady with two young children. She had just lost her job and left her partner, when she got in touch with me I could feel how low she was.
“She comes into the cafe twice a week to collect for her children and always chats with us, I think just being able to have someone to talk to goes a long way in these times.
“It feels great to lift people’s spirits like that, so many people are always so friendly and upbeat when they come to see us.”
With an imminent announcement on when schools will be allowed to fully reopen imminent from government, Sharron has said she isn’t going to stop doing all she can to help.
“Obviously when the schools open again, demand will slow down, but we still want to continue our work and offer help to the community.”
Staff and volunteers at the cafe are determined to ensure nobody is left behind during the pandemic, and anyone who may need help providing meals for their children is being urged to get in touch.
To arrange a collection or delivery in the Lincoln area, email [email protected]. Also contact Sharron if you or your business can make a donation.