Volunteers at St Marys Chipping Norton

St Mary’s Church, Chipping Norton leads the way

While many of us are pondering what to make for dinner when it is difficult to go shopping, some people are struggling to put any food at all on the table. Emma Kennedy and a team of volunteers from St Mary’s Chipping Norton had an action plan from the week before the official lockdown started.

‘Chippy’ as it’s known locally needed help, so with inspired organisation from a committed church team and partners, help came…

Mary’s Meals

Some statistics: to date more than 200 families have received food, 1,918 deliveries have been made, 6,128 portions of food have been served and a volunteer team of 64 packers and drivers have got involved. Numbers are not everything, it’s the individuals who matter.

The situation in the Diocese of Oxford mirrors what is happening elsewhere: people self-isolating; people new to job loss and unemployment; and a lack of free school meals impacting those who rely on them. Add in the challenges of home schooling and an air of fear over many communities, Emma Kennedy and her team of volunteers knew they had to step up and get involved.

Food parcelsWorking with local schools, the St Mary’s team reached out to individuals and families they already knew might appreciate help, and those new to the problems brought about by the pandemic.

With energy and determination, Emma and her team have applied for grants, and the response from Church members and locals has been overwhelming: from people donating from their allotments, the National Trust donating 1,500 Easter Eggs that they would have used on their Easter hunts, a local bookshop, Jaffe & Neale, donating 300 books and Aldi donating surplus stock. And along with generous individual donations, the Town Council is helping to cover the £1,300 it costs each week to run the operation.

The donations led to a partnership with local restaurant ‘Wild Thyme’ to make and freeze superb meals, and the purchase of easy-cook packs for families with children who prefer chicken nuggets! A family of five or more get two packs of food, ensuring no one goes hungry.

Several of the bakers in the congregation are also helping to keep up morale and thanking key workers too. “Cakes for Carers” go out to schools, the post office depot, refuse collectors, care home and supermarket workers. At the start of lockdown, cut flowers went out with food packs for Mothering Sunday, and now the team are sending out toiletry packs to many families too.

“It is not just about survival, but about love and care,” says Emma. “Families are all amazed to see how God uses this crisis to help and encourage people.”

Craft bags – creative fun for 250 families each week!

Food for the body is one thing, for the mind and soul is another, so 250 packs of themed craft activities go out every week too. 150 packs are delivered and the rest are available for collection from the Church Porch. Email instructions and ideas are also available for those who missed the bags! The packs are available both within Chipping Norton and to the surrounding local villages where isolation is an even bigger issue.

An Instagram page called Creative Kids of Chippy encourages families to post photos of what they’ve made and discovered. And each week’s theme is designed to help the mental health of the whole family. Themes so far have been ‘Imagination & Dreams’, ‘Birds & Resilience’, ‘Easter & Hope’.

“It means that this mummy doesn’t have to think and prepare the activities to do…but can just do them with all/some of the children (or sometimes me alone to get 5 mins head space to myself!)”  – one mum of four young boys.

Craft bags lined up at St Mary's

Rites of passage

For many children and teenagers the lockdown has led to stress and sorrow, certain school-related Rites of Passage have been missed and the building of those friendships for the future stalled. For children in year 6 and for teenagers, the team at St Mary’s have created Resilience Packs with books, wellbeing advice, activities, treats and contacts have been created to try and help them through the difficulties. The church was already providing a full-time worker in the primary school. She has now transferred her work to the telephone to support families who may need help and encouragement.

Amazing Volunteers building community

St Mary’s now has a bank of over 150 volunteers – making phone calls to the isolated, cooking, packing and delivering food, collecting prescriptions. Many of these are from the church family, but there are also lots of people from the community.

“For all the hardship of C-19, it has provided a wonderful way of connecting with community and sharing the life changing love of Jesus,” says Emma. “The church continues to offer podcasts and sermons as part of their role as a missional community and we are being encouraged to think outside the box and think of church in a different way.”

In recent months the church has bought the disused bank and is aiming to build and run a Community Hub, called “The Branch”. The last few weeks have proved the value of community, and of trusting God to give them the strength to bring the people whose lives they share what they need, in all ways.

St Mary’s is just one of many stories of hope during the pandemic

We’re asking churches to share their stories of hope in our uncertain times, you can find a full listing on our live blog with tips for keeping ourselves and our communities physically, spiritually and mentally nourished over the coming days, weeks and months. What’s your church doing and what are your top tips for others? Email us with your stories.