Today is the last day of a year which has seen heartbreak, lockdowns, restrictions and uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But 2020 has also seen the community of West Norfolk rally like never before and Your Local Paper readers have helped by giving generously to our Winter Appeal.
So far the appeal has raised around £9,000 for King’s Lynn Foodbank, King’s Lynn Winter Night Shelter and Lynn-based charity for the homeless, The Purfleet Trust.
Food bank project manager Helen Gilbert said it had been a year of highs and lows – the public had gone “above and beyond” to help those in need, but the charity had seen a “big increase” in people needing help.
Mrs Gilbert said many families needed the food bank for the first time and more people needed fuel vouchers to keep warm.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the charity was overwhelmed and it handed out 1,322 three-day food parcels during March and April – a 25 per cent increase on the year before.
“People didn’t want to come to the food bank, they felt ashamed. There’s a misconception they are for the homeless. But in fact, only seven per cent of those who use the food bank are homeless,” Mrs Gilbert said.
“I must stress anyone who is struggling or in need, please come to the food bank for help, not just for food, but to be pointed in the right direction for other services which can provide support.
“We don’t know what next year holds, how Brexit will affect people, if there’s another lockdown. It’s strange times.”
But Mrs Gilbert said she was bowled over by the community’s generosity during the pandemic, with an extra 10 tonnes of food donated at supermarket drop-offs.
She said: “I am amazed how generous the people of King’s Lynn and the surrounding area are. The people in this area have been so, so generous with their financial donations too.
“I have lived all over the place, but here has been the most generous. There is a sense of community in the area, people just want to help, it’s lovely.”
As well as donations from the YLP appeal, the winter night shelter received news of a £10,000 boost just days before Christmas from Norfolk Freemasons.
Night shelter co-ordinator Lucy McKitterick said: “We were delighted to be invited by the Norfolk Freemasons to apply for a grant from their national charitable giving this year.
“We were even more pleased when, having been turned down for a national grant due to the hugely increased need in this Covid year, the Norfolk branch wanted to support us themselves with this wonderfully generous grant.
“It will be a great help in a difficult year and will be used to help with the increased running costs of staffing the shelter 24 hours for the first time this year to ensure we are providing a Covid-secure home for our guests.
“It is always lovely when local groups and friends support the work of the Night Shelter – not just to know they are behind what we do, but to know the care and concern which Norfolk feels for the homeless in our community.
“In this hard year and difficult and lonely Christmas, this generosity to those in need is one way that people are coming together, supporting others and helping to give hope.”
Stephen Allen, Norfolk’s head of Freemasonry said the homeless crisis had been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, with many people losing their jobs and finding themselves either living on the streets or in unsuitable conditions.
“Supporting local charities helping those needing safe shelter and meals is one of our key priorities at this time of year,” said Mr Allen.
Miss McKitterick also thanked YLP readers who supported the night shelter through the Winter Appeal.
“It has been such a hard year for so many people and we know that a lot of people didn’t have much to spare this Christmas – their kindness was all the more wonderful and we do appreciate it.
“And there was no better gift really because the night shelter is a home for people who have none.
“We’ll spend the money on the same kind of things we all spend money on when we have a home – paying the winter bills.
“We are also open 24 hours for the first time to make sure our guests have somewhere to stay in the day if they need to, which hugely increases our running costs.”
Miss McKitterick said last year the shelter saw 104 guests, the most it had ever seen.
But she said the number this winter had been much lower so far as staff could only accept a certain number of guests due to them having to stay in individual rooms to comply with Covid-safe rules.
“We are deeply concerned for the welfare of those we can’t accommodate, but we look forward to increasing the capacity again in the future,” she said.
The Purfleet Trust plans to use some of the appeal money to support a new warehouse project.
Thanking readers last month, chief executive Paula Hall said the initiative would provide an opportunity to deliver additional services to directly support vulnerable homeless people including those with complex needs, mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependency.
It will be used to store items and also furniture for the charity’s House2Home project, deliver training courses and encourage individuals to join in activities to help then the gain skills and confidence to move into their own accommodation and get back into work.
The Winter Appeal will remain open throughout winter. Cheques can be posted to our office at 29 King Street, King’s Lynn, PE320 1ET made payable to King’s Lynn Winter Night Shelter, The Purfleet Trust or King’s Lynn Foodbank.