COVID volunteer projects launched to help people get through lockdowns have become permanent parts of some communities throughout East Lothian.
The county saw an army of volunteers step up to make sure vulnerable and isolated people were looked after with hot meal deliveries and visits to their homes, sometimes just for a chat, during the pandemic.
Now a number of the groups have come together as part of East Lothian’s Friendly Food Network, as families face a cost-of-living crisis and higher energy bills, and the demand for help rises.
The network was launched in 2019 to bring together local projects which provided access to food via local pantries, foodbanks or local initiatives.
And its members have swelled as the pandemic inspired communities to set up 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 she said that, with more people working from home, the number of volunteers giving their time to help had increased.
She said: “A lot of people became more involved in their communities during the pandemic and for many that desire to help has continued even as people returned to work.
“With more people working from home, we have found people are no longer rushing all the time and have realised they can get involved.
“And with the cost-of-living crisis and prices rising, these volunteers and the projects are as vital as they were at the peak of the pandemic.”
One project which remains in demand is Fa’side Community Kitchen (FCK) in Tranent
FCK began in a church hall providing emergency provisions and hot meal deliveries to residents and was, at one point, delivering 3,000 hot meals a week
As restrictions eased, it became clear that what people missed most was face-to-face contact and the kitchen moved into East Lothian Co-operative Bowling Club in the town, taking over the kitchen twice a week to dish up meals to anyone who came in.
The community kitchen does not charge for meals but does accept donations and has no restrictions on who can go along, with users including families, elderly individuals and carers.
FCK has now become a registered charity and is expected to be busy during the summer as families look for help feeding their children during the school holidays.
In nearby Prestonpans, a befriending service launched during lockdown by the Pennypit Trust is also continuing and looking for volunteers to join it.
The service provides support to isolated people with home visits and virtual chats.
Users of the service have welcomed the extra support, with one saying it was “nice to have someone to talk to, brightens my day”.
Another added: “The Pennypit Trust and befrienders have kept me going.”
The trust already has a holiday hunger project, which supports children during the summer holidays and has seen demand for places rise 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 meal is the only contact a person might have if they are isolated, so a friendly face and a chat is just as important.”
The East Lothian Friendly Food Network receives funding from East Lothian Council to support its administration and recently launched a Good Food Charter, which has been endorsed by the local authority.
The charter’s mission is to ensure every person in East Lothian has access to healthy, affordable and good nutritious food.
It sets out seven goals, including tackling food poverty and diet-related illness and health.
Councillor Colin McGinn, cabinet spokesperson for community wellbeing, said: “We are fully supportive of the East Lothian Food Network’s mission.
“At a time when the rising cost of living and energy bills is a real challenge for many families, the work of the network is incredibly important.”