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Community charity Food Friends supporting loneliest and most vulnerable Whitstable residents through Tier 3

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Residents in Whitstable are keeping the spirit of community alive by sharing meals with their most vulnerable neighbours in isolation, as the county gets to grips with continued restrictions in tier three.

Food Friends has been encouraging people to cook food for others since it was first set up in 2019, but the pandemic added a more urgent level of need as many were forced to isolate alone for months on end.

Volunteers have been preparing meals and delivering them to the isolated since the pandemic hit
Volunteers have been preparing meals and delivering them to the isolated since the pandemic hit

Suddenly many more residents were in need of support as the vulnerable and elderly were told to self-isolate to protect themselves from the spread of coronavirus.

Now with Christmas approaching and the county under the strictest government guidelines, the charity hopes more will join in cooking meals for those who need the most support.

Anna Mantell, the founder of the project, said she has been blown away by the level of support people are willing to give in the community.

The 35-year-old said: "It's probably the one positive thing we can take from this pandemic - people really see the benefit and need for community.

"It's really highlighted the issues we have with social isolation within our community, and that it goes from the very young to the very old."

Referrals to the charity quadrupled when the first lockdown hit
Referrals to the charity quadrupled when the first lockdown hit

Age is not the only indicator of vulnerability, with neighbours serving meals to people from all walks of life who need that little bit of extra support.

The group was initially set up in the hope of combatting food waste whilst encouraging people in the community to come together for a common good.

This year 3,900 meals have been made and delivered to the most vulnerable people living in the Whitstable area.

The mum-of-two said was inspired to start the project after befriending two elderly women living nearby.

She said: "I struck up two really good friendships with some ladies in their 80s, and the relationship we formed was mutually beneficial - my children were really young and they could give me guidance, and I could support them in other ways they didn't have because they were socially isolated.

Anna, pictured with her daughters Marcie and Ida
Anna, pictured with her daughters Marcie and Ida

"Communities are very different to how they used to be, we're perhaps not as tight knit as we were 40 or 50 years ago.

"I think it takes projects like Food Friends to actually bring people together, and to show the busiest person that actually if they've got an extra meal they can provide to someone and have a lovely chat, they can volunteer and help their community."

Following the success of the project, there are hopes to expand it to deprived areas of the county in 2021.

Anna is still looking for more people to volunteer who live in the Whitstable area.

The charity was recently awarded a £4,500 grant from the Kent Community Foundation.

Josephine McCartney, chief executive of the foundation, said: "Kent Community Foundation was very impressed with the Food Friends project and was delighted to award them a grant of £4,500.

"The ethos of Food Friends is exactly what our winter Knock and Check campaign is hoping to achieve across the county and we hope that other areas of Kent and Medway will be inspired to work with Food Friends or similar organisations to replicate this in more communities."

To find out more or to volunteer to be a food friend, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Whitstable

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