A UNIQUE partnership between a number of GAA clubs and a community association has seen 500 food parcels delivered to the most vulnerable Irish people living in and around Birmingham during the coronavirus crisis.
Within a week of going into Covid-19 lockdown, the Birmingham Irish Association (BIA), alongside Warwickshire GAA and their Birmingham-based clubs, launched a community foodbank appeal to help support the most vulnerable through the crisis.
The unique Clubs Together initiative created a partnership like no other – with the local John Mitchels, Sean McDermott's, Erin Go Bragh and St Brendan's GAA clubs all agreeing to set up and coordinate locally based food donation centres.
Once the donations were collected, they were then gathered together at the St Anne's Parish Centre, which is adjacent to the BIA’s offices in Digbeth.
Donations were sorted and food parcels were put together and distributed to BIA clients, many of whom are living with serious mental and physical health issues and are particularly isolated as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
Initially set up over an eight-week period, the project has now seen more than 500 food parcels delivered - helping numerous families across the city of Birmingham and further afield.
BIA CEO Maurice Malone told The Irish Post: "The response from the GAA clubs has been phenomenal, they have taken all the stress and pressure off our staff and between them organised the collection points for the food donations as well as collecting cash so that perishables can be purchased for those clients that need them.”
He added: "Without the support of the GAA clubs we would simply not have the capacity to run the food collection and donation service".
The organisation is working hard to cater for the hundreds of clients it serves across the city amid the coronavirus pandemic and associated government lockdown.
“We have 300 clients spread across the city of Birmingham, in addition we get referrals from Birmingham City Council as well as other welfare organisations,” Mr Malone explains.
"The pandemic is having a real heartbreaking effect on so many, many people,” he says, “but it has also brought out the very best in people.”
“The help of the GAA clubs is having such an impact,” he adds.
“The staff and volunteers of BIA may be the only people that those isolated at home see on a weekly basis.
“Their gratitude on receiving the food parcels and other items such as the local newspaper is really humbling, they are so thankful.”
In addition to the food collection and distribution service, the BIA have now set up a 24-hour helpline for clients, which is also being supported by local GAA members.
The organisation has set up a weekly foodbank at the St Anne's Parish Centre to help other members of the community who are also struggling.
And the organisation has no plans to stop the good work anytime soon, with Mr Malone confirming: "The GAA clubs involved have expressed a desire to continue their help beyond the initial eight-week period and we will be reviewing the services again in July.”
He added: “We are also working with the Irish Embassy to purchase 50 computer tablet devices which will be preloaded with books and activities and then loaned out to our clients.
“This electronic library loan service will allow us to renew and update the books and activities on a regular basis".
For further information about BIA's coronavirus response services click here.