Volunteer COVID projects launched to help people get through lockdowns have become permanent parts of some communities in East Lothian.
The county saw an army of volunteers step up to make sure vulnerable and isolated people were taken care of with hot meal deliveries and home visits, sometimes just for a chat, during the pandemic.
Now several of the groups have come together as part of the East Lothian Friendly Food Network, as families face a cost of living crisis and higher energy bills, and the demand for help increases dramatically.
The network was launched in 2019 to bring together local projects that provided access to food through local pantries, food banks, or local initiatives.
And its membership has grown as the pandemic inspired communities to establish their own initiatives.
The network’s Ruth Davie said many communities had found there was a real need for the services they provided, which remained in place after lockdowns were lifted.
And he said that with more people working from home, the number of volunteers giving their time to help had increased.
She said: “Many people became more involved in their communities during the pandemic and for many that desire to help has continued even as people went back to work.
“With more people working from home, we have found that people are no longer in a hurry all the time and we have realized that they can get involved.
“And with the cost of living crisis and rising prices, these volunteers and the projects are just as vital as they were at the peak of the pandemic.”
One project that continues to be in demand is the Fa’side Community Kitchen (FCK) in Tranent
FCK started out in a church hall providing emergency groceries and hot meal deliveries to residents, at one point delivering 3,000 hot meals a week.
As restrictions were relaxed it became clear that what people missed most was face-to-face contact and the kitchen moved to the East Lothian Co-operative Bowling Club in town, taking over the kitchen twice a week. week to serve meals to anyone who came. in.
The soup kitchen does not charge for meals but accepts donations and has no restrictions on who can join you, with patrons including families, seniors and caregivers.
FCK has now become a registered charity and is expected to be busy over the summer as families seek help feeding their children during the school holidays.
In nearby Prestonpans, a friendship service launched during lockdown by the Pennypit Trust is also continuing and looking for volunteers to join.
The service supports isolated people with home visits and virtual chats.
Users of the service appreciated the extra support, with one saying it was “nice to have someone to talk to, it makes my day.”
Another added: “The Pennypit Trust and my friends have helped keep me going.”
The trust already has a holiday hunger project, which supports children during the summer holidays and has seen demand for places increase by 30 per cent this year.
Ruth said: “Community kitchens and food deliveries are just part of what people have needed and continue to need.
“Sometimes that food is the only contact a person can have if they’re isolated, so a friendly face and conversation are just as important.”
East Lothian Friendly Food Network receives funding from East Lothian Council to support its administration and has recently launched a Good Food Charter, which has been endorsed by the local authority.
The mission of the charter is to ensure that everyone in East Lothian has access to healthy, affordable and nutritious food.
It sets seven goals, including combating food poverty and diet-related disease and health.
Councilor Colin McGinn, Cabinet Spokesman for Community Welfare, said: “We fully support the mission of the East Lothian Food Network.
“At a time when the rising cost of living and rising energy bills is a real challenge for many families, the work of the network is incredibly important.”