A CHURCH that has been supporting low-income families with food bags during the pandemic is gearing up to continue its work as more people are plunged into poverty at the end of furlough.

Gorse Hill Baptist Church has been awarded £5,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund to continue with the food bags, which it calls Bags of Hope.

Volunteers at the church have packed and delivered bags full of essential groceries, toiletries and games and activities for children to 300 households so far. Volunteer Heather Prictor said the church will be continuing until at least the autumn.

“We are planning to continue because with the furlough schemes coming to an end. We know there are going to be lots of redundancies and we know this is something we are going to have to help with,” she said.

“We are so grateful to the Wiltshire Community Foundation for the grant because it will keep us going.”

The church had originally planned to work with the charity Transforming Lives for Good to provide hot meals at its hall over the holidays for families who are eligible for free school meals.

But when the country went into lockdown, TRG advised the church team to deliver food bags instead and donated £200 to start it off.

“Filling the bags with enough food cost £8.49 a bag so that was only enough for 20 bags, but the church membership really got behind the project and started buying extra food in with their own click and collect orders, some sent us cheques, and some made us bags out of old curtains,” said Mrs Prictor.

They targeted families known to the church through its own groups at first but then began to widen its circle as more donations came in.

A production line of volunteers packs donated food into bags, along with games, puzzles and activity packs for the children. “We find out how many adults in the family and the sex and ages of the children so we can put in enough food and age appropriate activities,” said Mrs Prictor. “We have tried to really personalise the bags so the children can be excited about getting them.”

The church is planning to expand its support to be ready for a new wave of families falling into hardship.

The community foundation’s fund has now smashed the £1 million barrier and has so far awarded almost £700,000 to more than 170 groups across the county. Interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are really pleased to be supporting work like this because it is meeting a real need and, like many groups we are funding, it will continue to be vitally important as Swindon and Wiltshire deal with the fallout from the pandemic.”

To donate, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.