Tarmacer-turned-milkman Billy Holgate has been on the frontline in Manchester helping deliver food supplies to the people in the city most vulnerable to the killer virus.
Instead of delivering to doorsteps in the rolling hills around his hometown of Colne, Lancashire, the 23-year-old is in Moss Side, after Manchester City Council launched a new scheme on Thursday to get food to those most in need.
Each household will get three or four bags of fruit and veg, chilled food and canned goods, donated by supermarkets and delivered by milkmen.
Leanne McDonagh, 35, who got her delivery on Thursday morning, is in the vulnerable group: on benefits and living with her children aged 10, four and six months in Moss Side.
She said: “It’s a great help, I mean like literally a great help, I can’t describe how much of a help it is.
“I’ve got heart failure and I’ve got to stay in for 12 weeks, my kids’ had suspected coronavirus. I’ve got to be careful.
“It’s great, fantastic, thank you so much.”
Manchester City Council has funded the initiative which teams up local food charity, The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) with dairy delivery firm, The Modern Milkman.
The charity normally distributes food to 28 hubs around the region where it is bagged up and collected by locals, who pay £7.50 for £40 worth of food.
Now with the virus lockdown they are being helped by The Modern Milkman to distribute food straight to the door of those identified by the council as most vulnerable.
Mark Game, head of TBBT said: “The coronavirus is forcing us all to reevaluate our ways of working to respond to those most in need.
“Normally we distribute through community hubs, and this work continues, but we are now expanding to provide a door-to-door service for Manchester’s most vulnerable who are self-isolating at home and unable to get out to get food safely.”
At their busy distribution warehouse on Trafford Park, they get around 20 tonnes of deliveries, from various supermarket distribution warehouses, mainly from Morrisons, with stock including a small mountain of toilet rolls donated by Amazon.
Mr Game said: “They are being massively supportive while they have their own challenges.
“It’s not as if they have not been stepping up to help out.”
But as the lockdown continues, people lose jobs and apply for benefits, Mr Game estimates the rate of demand for the service will increase, with bigger premises and more volunteers needed.
He added: “We are at the bottom of the hockey stick.”
Simon Mellin, managing director of The Modern Milkman, said: “Our drivers usually spend the mornings doing our regular milk rounds.
“Now we’ll be working through the day to pick up food from The Bread and Butter Thing and, in our fleet of 80 plus milk vans, we’ll be dropping the food bags to people who really need them most.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to better serve our city and our communities and look out for Manchester’s elderly, sick and isolated.”
Vulnerable individuals can contact Manchester City Council’s dedicated coronavirus support team on 0800 234 6123.