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Coronavirus: £10m scheme to deliver 10,000 food parcels to needy every week in Northern Ireland

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Support: Deirdre Hargey

Support: Deirdre Hargey

Support: Deirdre Hargey

A £10m scheme to deliver food parcels to the most vulnerable during lockdown has been announced by the Minister for Communities.

Deirdre Hargey said the weekly deliveries are due to start from Wednesday, with an initial 10,400 people identified.

Planned for the next 15 weeks, the department will work with local councils and volunteers to make the deliveries.

The initial list has been based on those with underlying health conditions that have been asked to shield at home by their GPs.

Ms Hargey said there was flexibility to add names to the list, taking guidance from councils and local communities.

"These parcels will help people who don't have an existing support network or the financial means," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"This is a way to protect those people and reach out to them, as well as providing a friendly face once a week."

Food suppliers are to provide the food boxes to local councils with packages including items such as tinned food, dried food and soap as well as some fresh fruit and bread.

"The key is to protect those people who are shielding, but also to protect those who have lost their jobs and have fallen on severe financial hardship," the minister said.

Ms Hargey said the Department for Communities was also working on plans with the Department of Health and health trusts to safely deliver prescription medications.

"We will be working with community pharmacies and drawing up a list and building a database of people who need their prescriptions delivered," she said.

Sporting organisations like Ulster GAA, Ulster Rugby and the IFA have offered their support to the food delivery scheme.

In addition, Ms Hargey said those unable to work in other departments, such as forestry staff, would be able to make vehicles and staff available for deliveries.

Delivery drivers are to be given the appropriate advice to protect themselves from coronavirus.

"There will be guidance given that you leave the parcel at the front door, that it's wiped down and you don't go into the house and stay the two-metre distance away," she said.

She said the initiative will complement existing measures, such as the Department of Education making direct payments for free school meals.

In recent weeks community groups have been enlisting volunteers to help vulnerable people isolating from the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday Belfast Multi Cultural Association worked with St Patrick's soup kitchen to donate 70 dinners to homeless and vulnerable people in the city centre. Last week several organisations in south Belfast, including Bredagh GAC and Ballynafeigh Flute Band, were praised for working together to make food deliveries to those most in need.

Supermarkets are continuing to make home deliveries, but slots are being booked up three weeks in advance.

A statement from Tesco has urged those customers who are able to safely visit stores to do so, in order to free up slots for the most vulnerable.

Belfast City Council has relaxed its Sunday trading restrictions, allowing shops to open three hours earlier to allow dedicated slots for older people and healthcare workers.

Belfast Telegraph