Volunteer army set by AFC Wimbledon fans is braced for increased demand
Donations collected by the Dons Local Action Group. Credit: Dons Local Action Group
As we enter the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, local charities are bracing themselves for increased demand.
One example is the Dons Local Action Group, which was set up by fans of AFC Wimbledon football club in March to provide food and support for people shielding during lockdown.
Now they’re raising money to help the most vulnerable communities in Wandsworth, Kingston and Merton again.
Co-founder and director of Dons Local Action Group, Xavier Wiggins with some of the food collected. Credit: Dons Local Action Group
“We’ve basically gone from Covid-response through to permanent entity,” says Xavier Wiggins, 49, the co-founder and director of the group.
The Dons have an army of 1,500 volunteers and have distributed 35,000 one week food packs to people.
They have also helped out local food banks, provided people with furniture and even set up a Keep Kids Connected Scheme – delivering 850 computers to children who needed them for home learning during the lockdown.
One person the Dons group has helped is John Howard, 79, who lives near Wimbledon and Putney commons.
John Howard received food parcels from the Dons Local Action Group.
Credit: MyLondon photographer Darren Pepe
Not only has he been receiving food parcels, but the Dons have also helped him get in touch with Wandsworth Council to tackle damp and mould in his flat.
“I’m an old boy, and they’ve been wonderful, absolutely wonderful, I’d give them a gold star all day long,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
He first found out about the group on a shopping trip to his local Sainsbury’s in Putney.
“I said I’m not a football fan, but they asked if I needed some help.”
“I said, ‘well yeah.’ So anyway I came home and within an hour they had delivered a little food parcel, which was lovely and ever since then they’ve been brilliant.
“You build up a sort of relationship, they’re all lovely, the people are lovely, and they’re very reliable and the best bar none of these charities.
He says someone from the group comes round “once a fortnight or sometimes once a week.”
“It is surprising how the time has gone on. This year has gone by so bloomin’ quickly, it’ll soon be Christmas,” he said.
“But it meant a lot. Someone truly cared.
“It’s not just that they deliver a food parcel, it’s that they’re caring, genuinely caring, they’re absolutely wonderful.”
From starting out with a small stall outside Morrisons in Wimbledon, the group has grown massively and has just been awarded a grant of £7,650 from Wandsworth Council as part of its £50,000 Covid-19 Food and Essentials Fund.
The team is now raising more money to buy a van to help deliver food to more people in need.
“Because we’re always trying to do so much and there’s so much need, to this day our main challenge is getting enough volunteers at the point that we need them,” said Xavier.
“I remember in the very early days sitting there at midnight hoping someone would sign up for a shift the next day. That’s always a challenge for any charity or volunteer group. Part of the reason we’re fundraising at the minute is we need a van. We need more drivers, the roads are busier. We need bigger vehicles,” he said.
Over time the group has learnt how to adapt to the difficult circumstances many people were living in.
“We were learning really quickly how to deal with certain things and also how to recognise sometimes when it was just beyond our expertise, so we needed to learn who to pass people to,” he said.
“I’m a glass half-full person and I do think there has been so much good from this, but it doesn’t take away from the fact it’s downright frightening for many people and continues to be so.
“We just felt that if there is a willingness, and we have volunteers, that we have a responsibility to help our communities ongoing and to turn into a full-time entity.
“We scratched the surface with that digital poverty problem. Even on the furniture side, it opened my eyes to how many people are living in those conditions where they might be able to afford to eat but they struggle if they don’t have any furniture to eat it on.”
If you’d like to volunteer for the Dons, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also donate on this link.
Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter
September 23, 2020