This Volunteers’ Week, we meet Covid heroes making a difference in their communities

Published: 4 June 2021, 4:58 PM

Living through a pandemic hasn’t been easy but seeing how our community has pulled together during this time has been truly inspiring. During the Covid-19 outbreak, almost half of people (47 per cent) across England have volunteered independently, with 21 percent volunteering through organisations and or clubs. From keeping in touch with those who have difficulty getting out and about to delivering shopping and essentials to people who are particularly vulnerable, small acts of kindness have made a big difference.

When the NHS appealed for volunteer responders to join the Covid-19 effort, it hit it’s initial quarter of a million target within less than 24 hours. The enthusiasm to show kindness to others has been outstanding.

To mark Volunteers’ Week, we spoke to three volunteers about their experiences helping others in their community through one of the hardest times in memory.

When customers struggled to get hold of staple foods such as bread, milk and eggs during the first lockdown, Reena Chotai, 45, and her husband Henal stepped in.

The cafe owners set up a home delivery service, using their access to wholesalers to provide local residents with necessities. “It was something that we felt that we had to help with, as part of the community and we couldn’t let people in need go without the basic essentials. We did all this via the cafe and then teamed up with London’s Community Kitchen, with whom we still work closely alongside,” Reena said.

The couple’s efforts to support their community didn’t stop there.

“We also started weekly snack donations for the excellent NHS staff at Northwick Park Hospital which we raised money for via our fundraising page. This was [in conjunction with] LNWH Charity.”

Since April last year, their donations have helped frontline workers in the NHS, police and fire services.

Inspired by Marcus Rashford, Reena and Henal supported the footballer’s free school meals campaign, opening up their cafe in Pinner as a provider and main collection point for hot school lunches.

“We feel it’s our duty to help the local community where we can; we are fortunate to have access to the foods and items that people were in need of,” Reena said.

Reena and Henal have both had two doses of the Covid vaccine and undertake regular rapid testing to keep themselves and others safe while they volunteer.

Reena encourages people to take the Covid vaccine when they’re invited to. “I lost my uncle to Covid last May and it’s been an incredibly tough year for my aunt and the wider family,” she said. “Please do not hesitate; the vaccine is safe and not only will protect you, but those around you.”

Aarti Sawhney, who is also vaccinated, spent time volunteering with Khalsa Aid International during the pandemic.

“I wanted to make a physical difference and I wanted to help those in need. I wanted to help try and support the NHS,” the 39-year-old marketing consultant said.

She added: “I just couldn’t sit back and watch it on TV. It was heartbreaking to see what was happening on my own doorstep, it was important to stay involved and I just wanted to give back selflessly.”

Aarti’s volunteering involved collecting food parcels – at times over 200 meals – and delivering them to hospitals.

“When you deliver the food parcels and you see the smiles from the NHS staff and when they constantly thank you for the meals, that was all the motivation I needed to go back the next day,” the mother-of-three said.

As well as getting vaccinated, Aarti observed Covid safety measures such as hands, face and space guidelines and was tested for Covid, especially important as she lives with her in-laws who are in their 70s.

Aarti, who has Long Covid and lost a young, fit and healthy cousin to the virus, is hopeful that the vaccine will gradually help life return to normal.

Dr Raj Thakkar, GP, commissioning director, national team for heart failure and cardiac pathways, is also enthusiastic about the benefits of the vaccine.

He has given up his free time to volunteer in vaccination hubs, helping to support the Covid vaccine rollout.

“Every vaccination can have a major difference to someone’s life,” he said.

The 46-year-old doctor, who has had the vaccine, encourages everyone who is offered the jab to take it.

“Simply, the vaccine could save your life. I’ve seen first-hand what Covid can do. If you don’t have the vaccine, you are putting yourself at significant risk.”

Getting vaccinated against Covid when you’re invited to is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and others from Covid-19.

 For more information about the Covid vaccine, visit nhs.uk/CovidVaccine. To book your Covid vaccination appointment, visit nhs.uk/CovidVaccination or call 119 free of charge.

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