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7k MRE meals2
Author
Emma Penfold

I can't serve beer, but I can still serve my community

The world as we know it is changing.  After the year we’ve faced, there’s nothing earth shattering in that statement, life has changed in so many unimaginable ways. But despite the news, it’s not all doom and gloom.  Acts of kindness, big and small lift us each day.

We’ve each seen and heard some great ways people and communities are helping one another out.  In fact Norwich, you make us so very proud.  Back in June last year, we did a series of blogs on communities and neighbours supporting one another, with some amazing stories of everyday folk making a difference.

This hasn’t been restricted just to individuals or community groups; businesses are rolling up their sleeves too. One great example, in the south of the city, is The Garden House Pub and its Landlords Jonathon and Tanya Child.

 

Supporting the community has always been important to Jonathon, so when Covid hit, they knew they needed to help alleviate the struggle many in their community faced. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of amazing support out there and folk going the extra mile to support neighbours.  So what’s the big deal here?  Is it, because it’s a pub responding? The creative thinking? The range of help beginning offered perhaps? Or how businesses are pulling together?  Or simply the sheer scale?

Well, all of the above.  But, it’s also about citizen led change.  This isn’t simply a government service stepping in to fix the problem.  It is about passion, a shared responsibility, sharing skills, gifts and assets to connect and support each another.  At the Garden House, Jonathon and Tanya saw a need and knew they had the time, space and connections to help, and had an abundance of passion to make it happen!  Sure, as the local authority we could, and do provide help, but could we achieve the heights Jonathon’s achieved?  And when this is all over, would the community be stronger? Or have made as many new connections and relationships?  Without a doubt, no.

This is a story of a couple with a huge heart for their community who simply wanted to help, and who will leave this little corner of the world in a much strong position, when this is all over. 

 

Tanya and Jonathon offering a slice of kindness

Tanya and Jonathon offering their slice of kindness - Photo credit to Archant. 

Small steps lead to big change

I’m losing track of just how much Jonathon and Tanya have done. They started by creating the Pool Room Pantry, packed with items for food parcels.  As the needs in our city grew, so did their response. From Christmas stockings for unaccompanied asylum children and local families, to donations of brand new cutlery distributed to hostels, local schools and veterans projects.  Flasks, beanie hats and pac-a-macs given to soup kitchens and homeless hostels, oh and doggie treats too. 

Our local farmers also stepped up; an invitation to help was placed and answered with potatoes.  Other businesses and suppliers have been helping out too, with eggs, onions, pasta and even Norfolk tea being donated, all in bulk.  They’ve helped out collecting meals from the pub for a local charity.  And this week, Norwich City Football Club joins Zac’s with offering freezer space; this is truly a City effort.

Over the Christmas break, the pub ran a ‘Slice of Kindness’ offering free, freshly cooked pizza’s to local families in need.  Brunch Boxes have since superseded these as we went back into lockdown and the country’s media focused our attention on poor quality food boxes our children were receiving and expected to live on.  The pub now regularly provides good quality Brunch Boxes, with a range of 5 different meals for children each week, in addition to their Foodbank.

The first ton potatoes being donated

First delivery of a ton of donated potatoes

 

When I talk to Jonathon about just how much he’s doing, I can almost hear him shrug. “I just block everything else off and resign myself to helping folk. We can’t open so it keeps me busy!”

Jonathon’s range of contacts and determination frankly, has enabled him to offer help at a scale that would make most of us shudder if faced with those kinds of logistics.   Early January, the first pallet of 4,000 frozen meals went out to charities: The Feed, The Arc, and St. Martin’s, to local families and to Great Yarmouth too.  Over this last week, he’s also distributed meals to rural areas where schools were struggling and to our brilliant N&N Hospital to help ease their load. Now by connecting with other businesses for more freezer space, they can store and offer even more meals.

 

Overcoming challenges

Being a business brings other challenges.  With no access to funding, it requires a bit of creative thinking and problem solving. 

When Jonathon realised many people they support are without freezers. He managed to source ambient boil in the bag meals. These meals are great for those most in need, full of calories and vitamins, perfect to be distributed to hostels and soup kitchens.  As I write a photo lands in my inbox of a further 7,000 ready to eat meals being distributed. Making a total of 15,000 meals since December!  Between us, Jonathon and I can’t decide if this is incredible or just a very sad state we find ourselves in.  

“We don’t qualify for grants so I just call in favours from old mates and kind folk, and it’s working. I keep a log of food in and food out, I am proud of how many folk we feed but also very sad I hate to see the hunger.

We are but a small cog in a big wheel of kindness.  Like a quarter master directing help where it is needed working with the local authorities, local charities, helping many, many people.”

 

Jonathon with humanitarian food packs

Jonathon with humanitarian food packs - phot credit to Archant.

More than just a slice of kindness

Jonathon may down play his role, but he's the instigator; making it possible for so others to respond to his invitations to help.  The thank you list is vast, and residents too are showing their gratitude, with individual donations of food and financial support. 

Jonathon is keen, quite rightly to thank the company they work for: Craft Union who openly encourages them. He also says a huge thank you to all the suppliers who have donated so kindly, and the businesses stepping up to help. Its acts like these that make Norwich such a Fine City. 

But it is us, residents of Norwich, volunteers, and staff of all the groups and organisations he has gone out of his way to help.  It is us that should be standing up and shouting a huge thank you to Jonathon!  Without your heart to help, your time, commitment and sheer determination to make a difference, we, without doubt would be far worse off as a city.   Okay, so I’m smiling as I type; the dramatic sound track to Indiana Jones is playing on the radio in the background.  So my apologies if I got a tad carried away.  Reeling in my enthusiasm, simply put.

Jonathon and Tanya, you give us hope for a brighter future. Thank you.  

If you have stories about other Jonathon’s out there being amazing in our City, we’d love to hear from you. 

#bemorejonathon