Published: 22:45, 22 November 2017
Christmas came early to hundreds of families on Sheppey when the Co-op started handing out thousands of pounds worth of free food.
Families queued outside Castle Connections community centre in Queenborough as lorry loads of frozen chickens, pints of milk and vegetables arrived in convoys.
Mum-of-five Louisa Pearce of Rushenden walked off with bags of supplies.
She said: "I can't thank the Coop enough. This is such a wonderful gesture especially at this time of the year so close to Christmas."
Families descended on the hall as news of the great giveaway spread by word of mouth.
The surprise windfall came after staff at the Coop in Queens Road, Minster, found themselves with a store full of food which had to be disposed of.
Co-op area manager Carly Muggivan denied rumours a leaking pipe forced the closure, saying: "It was planned maintenance which has taken longer than expected."
But one person's disaster proved to be a blessing for others.
Suzanne Backshall who manages Castle Connections said: "I got a call from Dani Arnone who manages Queenborough's Co-op store to ask if we'd like any food so I jumped at the chance. But I never thought we'd get an entire shop.
"The Co-op told me it wanted the food to go to a good cause otherwise it would have to be dumped. This was totally unexpected."
She made emergency calls to all her contacts including children's centres, old people's homes and agencies working with the vulnerable.
People were turning up from all over the Island as word spread. Among those getting an unexpected early Christmas present was Mrs Pearce.
She was alerted by Michelle Williams who works with the Ladybird Centre.
Michelle said: "I got a call from Suzanne asking if I knew anyone who could do with free food so I rang around. I am also collecting food for a couple who are housebound and couldn't make the journey themselves."
The Castle Connections car park was heaving with vehicles as families kept arriving.
Volunteers were planning to man the community centre throughout the night until all supplies had been given out.
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