It takes a village to raise a child is an African proverb which is very relevant for us in these isolationist times, when raising a family is really hard for many in the face of a pandemic and after years of punishing austerity. With so many people, businesses and projects rallying to help provide meals for children eligible for the free school meals denied them by the government, communities up and down the country have shown that this ethos of caring and sharing lies at the heart of our society.
The small town of Ashburton in Devon doesn’t do things by halves and has set up a scheme that could just go on and on giving. Just before the beginning of half term the fuse was lit by a chance question on Friday 24 October about contributing money to anyone offering meals on the town’s Facebook group. This triggered a community effort which has astonished everyone.
Within minutes, local businessman Richard Geisens of ITUS Services Ltd, offered to sponsor any café or restaurant. Richard and Mel said they decided to help because “we had suffered hardship ourselves and knew the impact it has on family life”.
Rapidly the numbers of individuals offering donations grew. Then Sharon Cummings decided to get involved and a scheme really began to take shape.
“I decided to step up and do something proactive because of the numbers of people stating they wanted to donate. It was a natural response for me to get the ball rolling. We as a community shouldn’t sit back and expect somebody else to provide a solution: the Ashburton Covid Response Team are still very much up and running and probably exhausted from months of planning and providing support.
“So on the Saturday morning I walked into Salty’s Studio (Sandy and Jim) on North Street as a stranger and asked if they could help. They jumped on board with no hesitation. They designed the distinctive Cashburton vouchers, donating time and materials, and produced them during closing hours on Sunday. The vouchers were then on the post office counter and at Gnash Comics for distribution first thing Monday morning (where there was £100.00 single cash donation waiting for me to collect).”
Within an hour of Sharon setting up a donations page, contributions had reached £1000.
Meanwhile, East St Kitchen had offered to provide some meals and soon after hey presto! other local eateries rose to the occasion, too. The £5 vouchers were made available to children from low -income families (no questions asked) who could collect them and exchange them at one of the five establishments in the town – East Street Kitchen, Coljan, Taylor’s, The Old Library, Ashburton Delicatessen. The organisers’ prompt actions and combined skills miraculously produced a user-friendly scheme of great creativity and thoughtfulness. On top of all this, the Lockdown Larder made available a frozen supper for every participating child to eat at home. (Lockdown Larder is open to all though the Town Hall)
Since the beginning of the week, the numbers taking advantage of the scheme has grown and the donations have risen to over £3,000.
“The children have been enjoying their lovely dinners even though it must be quite daunting walking into a crowded café/ restaurant at lunchtime.” One restauranteur received thanks by text message.
Meals were made available over the weekend as well and now plans are afoot to carry on the scheme through the Christmas holidays and even over the Feb half-term holiday. Many small acts of compassion have turned a one-off event into a sustainable project.