When COVID-19 first forced the temporary closure of the Emmaus Suffolk shops and drop-in hubs in March 2020, we were determined to continue to support those who regularly attend our centres. We work with people who are already socially isolated, vulnerable or at risk of homelessness so keeping in touch with them during lockdown was vital.

Our team came up with the idea of creating and delivering Mental Health Packs, or Boredom Packs, filled with items from our shops. The first packs were filled and distributed in April, with support from the Chapman Centre and Emmaus volunteers. They contained DVDs, books, CDs, puzzle sheets, a gift for Easter, thanks to a donation of 100 Easter eggs from Sainsbury’s, and some basic toiletries along with a handwritten card from the Emmaus team.

The packs were collected from recipients every two weeks, sanitised and recycled and then redistributed.

Talking about the packs, Claire Staddon, Chief Executive of Emmaus Suffolk, said “Many of the people being supported by this new project were highly vulnerable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and these issues were exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. Our mental health packs, along with the regular phone calls from our team of volunteers, were able to alleviate some of the issues around boredom and loneliness, and has helped to encourage them to stay at home when needed to protect themselves and others from COVID-19”

As the initial COVID-19 lockdown continued, as did the support offered by Emmaus Suffolk to those isolating alone across the county.  The Mental Health Packs were offered to more people through agencies like Housing First, Home start, Anglia Care Trust and Sanctuary Housing, as well as 40 homeless people who were houses in a local hotel under the ‘Everyone In’ protocol.

We were grateful to receive funding from the Suffolk Foundation Covid Fund, Felixstowe Town Council Covid Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund so that the packs could continue until the end of 2020. This additional funding also meant the packs didn’t have to be recycled, so recipients were able to keep the items they received, and Emmaus Suffolk were able to add essentials such as face masks, hand wash and sanitizer.

Along with this funding, we were incredibly grateful to receive donations from several individuals and businesses, including a magnificent donation of thermal and bamboo socks from Sock Shop and over 500 brand new T-shirts which were both added to the packs and turned into bags for the packs by the Emmaus Suffolk sewing group, the Busy Bees.  We also added 80 hand knitted woolly hats, books, puzzles and toiletries all donated by the local community.

By November we were making 200 packs per month for over 28 partnership agencies across Suffolk such as The Chapman Centre, Withipol St (Womens Refuge), Level 2 Youth, 4YPS, Cavendish Lodge (homeless hostel), Felixstowe Schools, Stowmarket Find, GYROS, Bangladeshi Support and the Richmond Fellowship. In December, Christmas items were added to the pack, and an extra 130 were created for the Felixstowe Salvation Army who distributed them to vulnerable people across Suffolk.

In total Emmaus Suffolk made and delivered 1449 packs in 2020, and these proved to be a lifeline for many people across the county who were isolating alone.