The pandemic has impacted us all – businesses, families and individuals – and it might be some time before a new ‘normal’ settles on society. With vaccination rollouts and travel corridors being established, there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel – but what of those people still in the darkness of the tunnel. Those who, for whatever reason, have no income, no support from the ERTE system, no family or friends to rely on and no hope for the future.
One astounding outcome of the last 13 months is the community support that has been started from the ground up by ordinary people. Seeing failings in the social services system, the delay or complete lack of unemployment payments for those out of work, ordinary people have kickstarted food banks all over the southern Costa Blanca. These every day miracle workers are putting in countless hours to gather, sort and deliver every day essentials to local people in need.
One such service is run by Nikki Lloyd and Ines Perkins. These two amazing women and their team of volunteers are working day and night to make sure local families impacted by the pandemic have enough to feed and clothe themselves and their children.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Nikki and Ines this week for an interview – their time is very much in demand, so we appreciated the opportunity to speak to them. Ines works full time as a nurse, often coming home from a rigorous 12 hour shift and diving straight into this voluntary scheme while Nikki herself has undergone several operations since January, and cares for her own children, one of whom has a terminal condition.
We asked them when the work first began, when did they realise there was even a need for it. Ines explained, “It started back in August. It mainly came about when we were seeing on social media that people on our friends list hadn’t been paid their ERTEs (furlough payment), or had been let go. We were seeing self employed people not getting a penny and so many singers/entertainers literally had nothing. It was then we decided to try and do something.” What was the beginning like? Nikki explained, “When we first started, we literally would get about seven bags of food a week, we would make do with what we could give – which wasn’t much at all. Now, over 100 bags of food and clothes go out on a weekly basis. In my house, you can’t see any surface, it’s always covered in bags of donations. People are incredibly generous and I don’t mind my house being utter chaos for the greater good.”
Nicki also told us that while the need for support has grown since last year, it isn’t showing any sign of slowing, saying, “We still have many families that we helped right at the start still receiving food from us as sadly, the pandemic itself might be slowing down, but without tourism sadly the economic situation still isn’t getting much better and with the restrictions on tourism there are still very few jobs in the hostelry and entertainment sectors, and many others. This area is heavily reliant on tourism which is why so many people have been impacted by what is happening.”
Through the work they have been doing, Ines, Nikki and the volunteer team have witnessed some very upsetting situations. Ines told us, “One single Spanish mother only receives 54 euros a month. She was feeding her baby watered down cow’s milk, not only that – she was literally starving herself to make sure her older child had food.” Aside from people often feeling awkward that they have to ask for help, Ines also said that there is so much gratitude, saying “There are so many heart-warming moments when people cry so much to me when I deliver, even when it’s the 4th or 5th time.”
The engine behind the success of the donation scheme is social media. When something is needed, Ines will post on Facebook and the community is usually quick to respond with donations of items or money. And, despite the overwhelming positivity towards the work, sometimes Ines and Nikki do have to deal with comments from people about ‘this isn’t the place to beg for food’ or ‘surely the government can’t help’. This type of reaction is often frustrating, said Ines, who explained, “I’m actually very tired of seeing the comments claiming that the government and social services will help – because it isn’t true. To get an appointment for the Social Services in Torrevieja is literally like finding a needle in a haystack. The next appointment, when I last looked was for the end of June! That’s no use to a mother who has nothing to feed her children. Add to that, the amount of paperwork you need is ridiculous. Sometimes the system works and sometimes it doesn’t and people are left behind. I know from our own experience that Nikki has a terminally ill child she herself pays €964 for her medicine and doesn’t get a single penny from the government – they told her to be like any other mother and just go to work.”
For the most part though, the feedback is hugely positive and it helps to have a team of willing volunteers. Nikki said, “We are made up of a few volunteers and drop off points – we have Michelle Clarke in Cabo Roig, Alison Evans in Urb Entre Naranjos, Feathers bar in Monte Zenia, Tidy Paws in Villamartin, Jill Stansfield in San Miguel, Lynn Lomax in los Altos, Nikki herself is based in los Altos, Tracey Cork in Quesada, D-sante Bar in La Marina, El Carmen’s bar El Chapparal, Little Pods in La Zenia and probably a couple more that I’m forgetting!” Volunteers travel as far as permitted with the restrictions and have delivered donations as far as to Alfaz del Pi and Benidorm!
Ines says they’re not really a food bank: “We are more of an ‘everything bank’ but mainly we supply food, essential baby items such as powdered milk and nappies, also children’s clothing and shoes. We deliver and collect anything that could be of use, if something isn’t suitable for donation, it might be possible to sell it on Marketplace and use the money to buy something that is needed.” The work is rewarding, but not always easy said Ines: “It’s difficult, especially when you get terrible mean horrible comments or people telling me to send them to the social. I don’t do this for fun, I do it because people need us. Nikki is an absolute hero. She does the lion’s share of the work, balancing having a terminally ill child with mitochondrial disease as well as a 9 year old. She is an absolute hero.”
If you would like to help, simply contact Ines or Nikki on Facebook or use the following link to make a donation: https://paypal.me/pools/c/8v3240rQ4y