A virtual community hub, set up by Belfast City Council to support residents during the coronavirus pandemic, has delivered more than 30,000 food parcels to those most in need in the city over the last eight weeks.Launched in April, the hub, which is staffed by Belfast City Council staff and volunteers, coordinates the distribution of essential food items to homes across the city, on behalf of the Department for Communities.
Today, newly elected Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Frank McCoubrey met the Secretary of State at the hub at Ulster Hall on his first official engagement since taking up office on Monday night.Councillor Frank McCoubrey said: “The hub was set up by Council to provide support for those who need it most, in communities right across the city, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and volunteers who have been so committed to getting the hub up and running, and providing this service for residents.
“The hub has been a lifeline for some people; at its peak, staff were receiving around 1,000 calls and emails each day. We are pleased to have been able to provide this much needed support for people, to help with practical things such as ensuring they are not going without food. Hopefully this support has gone some way to removing that burden of worry from our most vulnerable.”Councillor McCoubrey added: “As well as providing essential food items, in many instances the weekly delivery is the only human contact some people have – albeit at a distance. And we know from the messages of thanks received by hub staff, that the deliveries have meant so much – not only to those receiving them, but also to their families who due to circumstances have been unable to shop or deliver food to their loved ones themselves.”
In addition to food parcel delivery, the hub has also coordinated the distribution of £735,000 emergency community funding, £485,700 of which has been provided by the Department for Communities. This funding has been distributed to voluntary and community organisations across the city to assist in the delivery of urgent services for those who are most vulnerable. Councillor McCoubrey said: “The strong partnership working between Council and the many community and voluntary organisations working in the heart of our local neighbourhoods has been fundamental to the practical and vital support that the hub has been able to deliver directly to those most in need.
“Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed so many acts of kindness and community spirit and it is my hope, that as I begin my year as Lord Mayor, we can build on that sense of community which will be so important to our future recovery and resilience.”
All referrals received via the community hub to date have been accepted and these residents are now in receipt of a weekly food parcel. Hub staff also coordinate requests for practical support, such as collecting prescriptions and signposting to services on issues like jobs and benefits, as well as providing a listening ear to anyone who is in need of emotional support.
The hub will remain operational throughout June. The freephone helpline is open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, and from 10am-2pm on Saturdays.