New recruits join army of local Jewish Care volunteers

18 Apr 2020

Jewish Care has recruited new volunteers to assist in the mammoth effort to support older, vulnerable members in the local community across London. A surge of calls from anxious older people and their relatives were received by the Jewish Care Helpline and the organisation’s Social Work and Community Support teams transformed themselves into a phone and virtual service. Over 630 new volunteers stepped up to help with telephone befriending and Meals on Wheels deliveries to support Jewish Care’s existing army of 3000 of volunteers across their services, some of whom were over 70 and also needed to isolate.

Hundreds of meals are being prepared each day by chefs and catering team together with redeployed staff at Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre.

David Akinsaya, Community Outreach Worker at Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House drives to Redbridge to collect frozen, Kosher meals and brings them back to fill the freezer in Stepney so that he and the Centre Manager, Denise Alexander, can ensure that meals are being delivered to older, isolated people from communities in Stepney, Hackney and Canary Wharf.

Before these vital services were closed due to the virus members of the Centre enjoyed going to the community centre and the Connect@ service in Stamford Hill where they would participate in activities, socialise and have a hot meal several days a week,

Doris, 81 who lives in Stoke Newington and is also receiving Meals on Wheels, says, “The days are very long and I really miss seeing my friends at the Connect@ Stamford Hill, they made me feel so welcome and were so good to me. I hope to be able to see them again soon.

“The Meals on Wheels that are delivered are really good. On Monday, David from the Centre asks me what I’d like and then he brings it on Tuesday. I just put it in the oven so it’s really easy. Once a week a new befriender rings me as well and we have a nice chat. I speak to my children and grandchildren on the phone too and my family make sure I have everything I need as well.”

Volunteer, David Davidi-Brown, who lives in Bow, also wanted to do something practical to help. He says, “I live very close to the community centre so I deliver meals and say hello to people to find out how they’re getting on. Most seem in good spirits and are quite chatty and it’s quite life-affirming that they are still making jokes and getting through it.”

Janet Foster has been a volunteer at Jewish Care’s Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House for many years and is now volunteering from home as a telephone befriender to older members of the local community. She says, “I try to keep all our conversations as fun and light-hearted as possible. Normally I ask clients to watch a particular show the night before our calls so we can discuss it the next day. We talk about holidays, music and anything else they want to talk about. It’s great to get a chance to just sit and talk with people, especially those who experienced the Blitz and the effects of WWII at the beginning of their life.”

She speaks to Marion, age 87, who lives alone, close to Jewish Care’s Stepney Jewish Community Centre. She is anxious about the virus and says that the befriending calls she receives from Janet are very important to her. Fortunately, she also has a good family who keep in touch.

Marion says, “I look forward to Janet’s calls, it’s a marvellous thing to have and it really has kept me alive. And I know, if I can survive the Blitz, I can deal with this”.

Chief Executive, Daniel Carmel-Brown, said, “Dealing with the outbreak has been like a restructure overnight. We had to transform day care and community centre operations into a very different set of services. Food for older, isolated people who don’t have the support network that some are privileged to have, is critical. They need to receive food and our Meals on Wheels services have quadrupled. There are many more for whom social contact is now desperately needed in our community.

“We are incredibly grateful and overwhelmed by the way that younger members of our community and others, all the way up to the age of 70, have come forward in their droves to establish not only a mass Meals on Wheels but a telephone and virtual befriending service as well, to become a lifeline for meals and social contact to those who now desperately need it in our community.

“We are so thankful to have the support of our existing and new volunteers in the community to help us to meet this need.”