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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland's volunteering 'soup-er heroes' doing their bit for people in need


Some of the food parcels prepared by the Cregagh Community Association

Some of the food parcels prepared by the Cregagh Community Association

Some of the food parcels prepared by the Cregagh Community Association

Some of the food parcels prepared by the Cregagh Community Association

Cara Doran

Cara Doran

Maura O'Brien

Maura O'Brien

Joan Murphy

Joan Murphy

Some of the food parcels prepared by the Cregagh Community Association

Many people currently on furlough due to the pandemic are refusing to sit on their hands and have turned to volunteering to keep busy and help those most in need in these uncertain times.

They include Cara Doran (23) from north Belfast, who for the past six years has been a receptionist at Belfast's Merchant Hotel, a casualty of the Covid-19 crisis and now closed along with countless other bars and restaurants.

With no idea when she will be back behind her desk in the lobby, Cara was keen to use her free time to make a difference through volunteering.

Now for six days a week she is one of the 'soup-er heroes' making deliveries throughout the greater Shankill area to the most vulnerable, elderly and those in need.

On a typical day Cara packs her car full of deliveries before heading to around 20 homes, where people of all ages are isolating from the virus.

"After a few days of being at home when the hotel closed I just knew that I had to do something during this pandemic," Cara said.

"With all this free time on my hands, I couldn't just sit about not helping out people in need. I saw an advert on Facebook that the Spectrum Centre were seeking drivers for soup deliveries and got in touch.

"It's contact-free work where I deliver the soup and leave it outside the homes, rap the door and then walk away."

Cara says the work has been really fulfilling.

"Everyone is friendly and very appreciative. Some are quite lonely and do like to have a chat, which is fine, and I do.

"From a mental health point of view, doing this is a great help as it gets you motivated to get up and go out.

"If I can help out in any way when this is all over, I will stay involved with the centre," Cara added.

Meanwhile, Joan Murphy (61) is four weeks into her stint delivering soup with the same group, having been furloughed from her job at the Movie House Cinema at Yorkgate, where she has worked for 12 years.

"I locked the cinema doors for the last time on St Patrick's Day and it was a really weird feeling not knowing when the projectors would be back on again," Joan said.

"After two weeks of pacing the floor I knew that I needed to be doing something and started following some community pages on social media who needed drivers for delivery.

"Giving up a few hours for three days each week really isn't that much, but you get to know those you meet on the run and your fellow volunteers.

"I'm loving being a part of this as I'm getting a lot out of it and it gives your week some structure too. Plus I'm getting to know parts of Belfast I had never been to before."

Tens of thousands of food packages are also being delivered to those who are shielding, the financially vulnerable or people who may be experiencing difficulties physically accessing food.

Numerous local voluntary groups are involved, including Cregagh Community Association in east Belfast, and it's where Joanne Snodden (38) helps to deliver 30 food and essential items parcels every Friday.

The mum-of-two was a children's play worker with Venture Kids after school club and was keen to help others in whatever way she could.

"It gives me a reason to get up, dressed and get out there," Joanne explained.

"We put the parcels together in Mount Merrion Church and then normally divide the runs up so you take about six each.

"Last Friday when I dropped off a parcel with one wee man he just burst into tears he was so happy.

"My daughter was in the car at the time and she asked me why he was crying, so I had to explain it was because he was thankful as he can't get out himself.

"This has also been a chance for her to learn the importance of helping others."

Elsewhere Maura O'Brien (47) from Glengormley was previously an administrator with a construction firm for over three years before being furloughed on April 1.

Now she is using her free time to do shopping for an elderly couple who are self-isolating after registering with the Volunteer Now website.

"It's a chance to give something back because initially I felt a sense of guilt that I was still being paid to do nothing whilst others are working hard on the front line," Maura said.

"I phone the couple every week, get their order for groceries the next day, do the shopping and then leave it on their porch.

"At this stage I know their shopping list better than my own.

"They are a lovely couple and you could easily sit and talk to them all day on the phone.

"I'm glad to be doing this as I can't get to see my own parents back in Co Tyrone at the moment.

"You'd love to be able to do more but every little helps.

"I'd urge anyone considering doing something to help others so just get out there and do it," she added.

Belfast Telegraph