A 300-strong army of helpers in Ottery St Mary are fundraising to boost their coronavirus relief effort – and have launched a pioneering way to pay for shopping.
Ottery Community Volunteers – formed just three weeks ago – is providing a range of support for people who are isolated in their homes.
And in what is believed to be a national first, members shopping for those in need will be able to use a pre-paid card to buy essential groceries.
The kind-hearted group is also helping to connect the town’s residents with the business community’s services such as food suppliers now providing takeaways.
More than 300 people have registered to help their community and are providing vulnerable people with grocery shopping, prescription collections, befriending, food availability mapping and business support.
A GoFundMe page has already netted hundreds of pounds donated by generous local residents.
Speaking on behalf of the operations team, Stewart Lucas said: “We’ve had to buy various resources and equipment.
“We have managed so far on a grant from Ottery St Mary Town Council, generous donations and using our own and existing resources to set up the response.
“As we expand the organisation it incurs costs and we want to ensure that we can provide additional services, keep our volunteers safe and provide all of the equipment they need.”
“In order for us to raise funds in this way and attract other sources of funding, we have become an unregistered not-for-profit company.”
Pre-paid shopping card
From next week, volunteers shopping for isolated residents will be able to use pre-paid cards to purchase essential groceries.
The group’s leaders say they are not aware of another such system in the country.
They says paying for groceries has been an ‘ongoing challenge’ – with some volunteers left out of pocket and many residents struggling to pay due to a lack of cash or online bank services.
Now, residents who need shopping or prescriptions will be able to transfer a sum of money to a bank account linked to the pre-paid card.
Volunteers will simply use the card as they would a standard credit card.
Mr Lucas added: “We’re relying heavily on technology to enable the smooth running of our systems, so it’s great to have acquired free accounts for our telephone system [run by Circleloop], volunteer organising system [Trello] and written message communications system [Slack].
“Organisational systems and procedures are being standardised too, with human resources, reporting systems, volunteer availability databases, as well as welcome packs, which set out legal guidelines and safety procedures for our teams.
“It feels a bit like a military operation at times – but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
“We really want to be there for our local community and will continue to be throughout this epidemic.
“There’s a wonderful generosity of spirit and kindness in Ottery St Mary. Thank you so very much to all those involved.”
More than £700 has been donate to the cause so far. You can make a contribution here.