Volunteering During a Pandemic

Sandra Burke

Charities need our support more than ever, especially with the extra challenges of the pandemic and lockdowns. We spoke to one volunteer, Sandra Burke, who has continued to plan, raise money and support Mary’s Meals in her role as a Community Ambassador. Here’s her inspiring story…

How did you become aware of Mary’s Meals?

I first heard of Mary’s Meals on social media. Back in autumn 2014, a mention showed up in my Twitter feed that caught my eye and made me want to find out more. I took a good look at the website and was knocked out that this charity, working out of a small shed in Argyll, was doing such amazing work feeding thousands of children in the poorest countries around the world. I had some time to spare and immediately decided I wanted to help. By early 2015, I had trained as a volunteer speaker, fundraiser and community ambassador.

What inspires you most about the charity?

Children playing overseas

Mary’s Meals helps to support children in 19 of the poorest countries around the world

Like many good ideas, it’s so simple and impactful. Hungry children get a free, nutritious meal every day in school. The meal improves their health, attracts the children into education and what they learn then improves their life chances as they grow up.

Because the whole community and local volunteers help deliver the service, costs are kept really low and just £15.90 feeds a child for a whole year.

I continue to find that single fact quite incredible – what an achievement!  I also love that Mary’s Meals keeps their admin costs really low and 93 pence of every pound raised is spent on feeding the children.

Can you share some of the heart-warming stories?

There are so many success stories now that Mary’s Meals has served over 1 billion meals in 19 countries over the last two decades. Children whose lives were previously at risk from chronic hunger have grown up to become nurses, doctors, teachers, charity workers and parents themselves – all contributing to the health and prosperity of their local communities by giving back their skills, time and experience. The 1.6 million young children still in the programme every day have hope and can dream and plan for a brighter future. It’s truly wonderful to see and inspires our volunteers to continue supporting such a fantastic, worthwhile charity.

MosesMoses’ story…

Recently, in Liberia, young Moses’ grandmother contracted coronavirus.

All adults in the family were quarantined for two months, meaning no-one was able to work. For seven-year-old Moses, Mary’s Meals was a lifeline.

His head teacher said,

This year, Mary’s Meals will be more important than ever. It gives us hope. The children will eat and be strong.

What fundraising projects have you been involved in?

A team helping with the backpack effort before the pandemic

A team, including Sandra, helping with the backpack effort before the pandemic

Mainly giving lively talks to groups, associations, schools and workplaces across the north east of Scotland. So many people come forward to make one-off or regular monthly donations afterwards and it’s fantastic when a company or a group chooses Mary’s Meals as its charity for a year or even longer. People become involved and are so enthusiastic.

Before the pandemic, we regularly ran backpack projects, filling them with pencils, crayons, jotters, toiletries, shorts and t-shirts and a small toy. Mary’s Meals has shipped hundreds of thousands of these backpacks over the years and it’s very moving to see videos of the joy and excitement the delivery brings as the children open them up. Many of them have never had anything to call their own and their backpacks quickly become cherished possessions.

Are there particular events that stand out for you?

Porridge bowls decorated with smiles

The World Porridge Day events every October are great fun. I remember doing an event in our village school with young children, their teachers and some parents. We had porridge for breakfast together in the school hall and placed little bowls of chopped fruit and sweets on the tables for everyone to decorate their porridge – with small prizes for the best ones.

I spoke for a short while about Mary’s Meals and then viewed all the “works of art in a bowl”.  It was great fun with lots of laughter and enthusiasm, but sobering to think that for the children Mary’s Meals feeds every day, a single porridge meal is a real lifeline.  Many of the parents and teachers were so moved they went on to do the backpacks and make other donations.

Do you meet regularly with other volunteers?

Yes, most volunteers are linked with others in their area and can get together to organise events like coffee mornings, cake and book sales, sponsored activities and even balls and concerts. Of course, none of that has been possible during the pandemic, so groups throughout the UK are meeting virtually online to come up with other fundraising ideas that are possible just now.

Our group in Dundee & Angus has only recently started meeting online and already we’ve raised more than £600 towards our goal of raising enough to feed 100 extra children this year.

Donations can be made at giving.marysmeals.org/en_gb/projects/zbqh-feed-100-hungry-children-for-a-year-2021-appeal.

How can people become volunteers?

Children in Kenya receiving Mary's Meals support Pic: Chris Watt

Children in Kenya receiving Mary’s Meals support Pic: Chris Watt

Being part of Mary’s Meals is a wonderful experience and it’s possible to devote as little or as much time as you can spare. There are so many ways to help, whether you become a trained volunteer or prefer to fundraise as an individual with your family, friends and colleagues.

Visit the website at www.marysmeals.org.uk to find out how to get started.  You can also follow Mary’s Meals on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news.

If, like Sandra, you’d like to support a charity that’s close to your heart, here are some ways to get started…

  • Most larger charities have websites, so that’s a good place to start. Often they have a section on volunteering, and how to get involved. If you don’t have much time to spare, look at their latest campaign ideas. Could you take part in one sponsored event to help them? Pick something you’ll enjoy like walking 10,000 steps a day or hosting a virtual coffee morning. You’ll benefit as much as the charity!
  • If you’d rather help a smaller charity in your local area, go online and type in a search for volunteering opportunities and include your town, area or county. You’ll be amazed how many good causes will come up. Or head to www.volunteerscotland.net/ or www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/i-want-to-volunteer. Both are packed with information to help you find out more about volunteering.
  • Ask a group of friends or colleagues to help organise a fundraising event – as well as raising money it’s a great way to stay connected with your social circle, especially in lockdown. Make plans via Zoom or Teams until the restrictions ease.
  • Follow your favourite charities on Facebook or Twitter, to keep in touch with the events and opportunities available.
  • If you’d rather have the support of more experienced fundraisers, search for groups, like Sandra’s, that are already established in your area. They’d welcome your help and ideas.

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.