The Power of Empathy

When Covid-19 first forced the temporary closure of the Emmaus Suffolk shops and drop-in hubs in March 2020, the charity was determined to continue to support those who regularly attend their centres. Emmaus Suffolk works with people who are already socially isolated, vulnerable or at risk of homelessness so keeping in touch with them during lockdown was vital.

The team at the Ipswich and Felixstowe charity developed the idea of creating and delivering Mental Health Packs, or Boredom Packs, filled with items from their shops. The first packs were filled and distributed in April, with support from the Chapman Centre and Emmaus volunteers. They contained DVDs, books, CDs, puzzle sheets, a gift for Easter, thanks to a donation of 100 Easter eggs from Sainsbury’s, and some basic toiletries along with a handwritten card from the Emmaus team. The packs were collected from recipients every two weeks, sanitised, recycled and then redistributed.

Talking about the packs, Claire Staddon, Chief Executive of Emmaus Suffolk, said: “Many of the people being supported by this new project were highly vulnerable prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and these issues were exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. Our mental health packs, along with the regular phone calls from our team of volunteers, helped to alleviate some of the issues around boredom and loneliness, and has helped to encourage them to stay at home when needed to protect themselves and others.”

As the initial Covid-19 lockdown continued, the Mental Health Packs were offered to more people through agencies like Housing First, Home start, Anglia Care Trust and Sanctuary Housing, as well as 40 homeless people who were houses in a local hotel under the ‘Everyone In’ protocol.

The charity received funding from the Suffolk Foundation Covid Fund, Felixstowe Town Council Covid Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund so that the packs could continue until the end of 2020. This additional funding also meant the packs didn’t have to be recycled, so recipients were able to keep the items they received, and Emmaus Suffolk was able to add essentials such as face masks, hand wash and sanitiser.

Along with this funding, the charity was incredibly grateful to receive donations from several individuals and businesses, including a magnificent donation of thermal and bamboo socks from Sock Shop and over 500 brand new T-shirts which were both added to the packs and turned into bags for the packs by the Emmaus Suffolk sewing group, the Busy Bees. The charity also added 80 hand knitted woolly hats, books, puzzles and toiletries donated by the local community.

By November, the charity was making 200 packs per month for over 28 partnership agencies across Suffolk such as The Chapman Centre, Withipol St (women’s refuge), Level 2 Youth, 4YPS, Cavendish Lodge (homeless hostel), Felixstowe Schools, Stowmarket Find, GYROS, Bangladeshi Support and the Richmond Fellowship. In December, Christmas items were added to the pack, and an extra 130 were created for the Felixstowe Salvation Army who distributed them to vulnerable people across Suffolk.

In total, Emmaus Suffolk made and delivered 1,449 packs in 2020, and these proved to be a lifeline for many people across the county who were isolating alone.

For more information on the work Emmaus Suffolk does to support those socially isolated, vulnerable, long-term unemployed or at risk of homelessness here in the county, visit: www.emmaus.org.uk/suffolk.

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