We continue a full national operation to get food to vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 Spotlight – Mandalay Wellbeing CIC

7 May 2020

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC is a community interest company based in Great Yarmouth continuing to feed people throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The group collects food from Waitrose Norwich three days a week which is being distributed to vulnerable people and organisations in the community across Norfolk and Waveney.

Trevor Saunders, Founder and Director at Mandalay Wellbeing CIC, said: “We’re now solely concentrating on supporting people affected by COVID-19. Our model hasn’t really changed, more that it’s expanded.

“From a FareShare perspective, we’ve gone from 2-3 regular collections a week, to 10 collections plus bonuses. So we’re doing between 10-15 collections a week.

“We’re mobile now, so before we were running groups for homeless people, and people needing support, but we now deliver directly to anyone needing support, we mainly receive referrals via GPs, Citizens Advice, DWP and other support groups. Working this ways ensures we are delivering to people who are in genuine need.

“We’ve recruited more volunteers, and are continuing to do so. Volunteers are playing a key role, taking part in the collections, sorting and distributing food on a daily basis. We try and introduce volunteers to stores before they start collections, so the stores get to know who’s going to come and collect, it helps to put a face to the person collecting and Volunteers can see what happens at a collection, so they feel confident with the whole process.

“Storage wise, our shop has turned into a mini supermarket, where we check dates and longevity of food and put in relevant sections based on how long the food is good for. Short term food, like bread and fruit.

“We work closely with Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and have built good relationships with them. Any items we collect which could go to waste, we contact the council and share with them for the people they are supporting. This minimises any potential waste and helps support a much wider cohort of people and groups. The council and other groups have been brilliant and we have received great support from them, it really feels like we are all in this together.

“We’ve got a really good team of volunteers, many of them have been furloughed, and they’re all doing a magnificent job. They genuinely seem to like what we are doing and they see first-hand how it is helping.

“We have been doing a regular Sunday drop off at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital because frontline staff can’t always get out and shops close earlier on a Sunday. We’re in regular contact with them, we do our Sunday collection from Waitrose and the majority of that food goes there.

“We also receive referrals from other organisations like housing associations, children’s services. Unfortunately, there’s been a rise in domestic abuse so there are people being moved into emergency accommodation and we’re supplying food for them as well when requested.

“The way we work hasn’t necessarily changed but we are operating on a much larger scale. We drive out a lot more now. We’ve also developed questions like ‘Have you got a freezer?’ when we speak to people, if they have we know they can freeze bread and things like that, which gives it extra time if it’s short dated.

“We delivered to someone through a GP referral, a disabled person who can’t get out. Our system is to give them ten minutes warning, take food to the door, back off and see that they’ve received it. This man, he crawled to the door as he has no legs – he definitely can’t get to the shop on his own, it was quite humbling to see, but also inspired us to keep going, because you know it is helping.

“We’ve also delivered to a self-employed person, their business is gone, they’ve got four kids and can’t furlough so they’re getting no money in. We were out there with four or five bags of food.

“There’s a big cross section of people in need of help, we’re seeing people we wouldn’t normally see. For the self-employed this is a whole new experience, they don’t know where to go, or what help is available.

“FareShare is really brilliant, and the people working in supermarkets, to me, they’re amazing. Waitrose staff are polite and knowledgeable, it’s a genuine pleasure dealing with a company that ‘get it’ and want to help – taking their time to look and do what’s best – and we really appreciate it. We’ve never had any issues, and they really work hard and know what we’re doing locally so make sure we have really good stuff.

“We’ve also done bags with toys and things in that were leftover from our Christmas stocking campaign, and people are completely moved by that.

“We’re so confident in the way FareShare works, it really makes a difference. We’re doing the best we can and it feels like we are genuinely helping people.”

Mandalay Wellbeing CIC has so far made 55 collections through Waitrose Norwich, picking up 1,219kg of food which is the equivalent of 2,902 meals worth. Waitrose Norwich also donates food to Norwich FoodHub and Norwich Bus Shelter CIC.