A local church community has gone the extra mile for struggling individuals and families this year as their annual school uniform bank returned for the fourth time.
The team at St Michael’s Church in Chell first introduced their school uniform bank four years ago. This year’s bank launched in July and offers a wide range of both brand new and second hand items – all free of charge.
Branded school uniform items are also on offer, as well as School Uniform Shop vouchers if you are unable to find your school’s item in the bank. There is one week left to make a request for items before the new school year starts.
Families worker Becky Berrisford, 46, explained the bank has also been lucky enough this year to receive funding from Martin Lewis and Stoke North Big Local, which has been a huge help in purchasing new school uniform items.
Local schools, such as Ormiston Horizon Academy, just around the corner from the church, have also donated brand new items.
Becky said: “Last year we kitted out 172 children with school uniform items and this year we are on around 169 so far. Uniforms are collected at various churches and locations across the city, and then we have to sort everything.
“Items do need to be quarantined before we can pick what has been requested by each family.
“We have also been able to give out vouchers for the School Uniform Shop, so if we haven’t been able to get an item, such as a blazer for a specific school, we can provide the family with a voucher for it instead.”
The bank has had to adjust and operate differently this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but Becky is still keen to support as many people as possible.
She has also worked closely with Nannette Hulse, 59, who is the community health and wellbeing officer at Chell Area Family Action Group (CAFAG).
Becky continued: “It has been very different this year. Usually we’d have lots of families in here looking at all of the items and the children would be trying things on. Instead, I’ve had to handpick items for the families along with Nannette from CAFAG, which has actually been a real pleasure.
“Everytime we have made up a pack and know that that child will be going off to school again with a fresh uniform, it’s really made us smile. It has been such a difficult few months but hopefully we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Volunteer Becky Marston has been supporting Becky and her team at St Michael’s Church for almost three years.
The 33-year-old, from Kidsgrove, is a mum-of-two and understands the expense of kitting out children in full school uniform and PE kits.
She said: “For a full school branded PE kit it can be around £80, which is a massive amount of money, especially if you have more than one child.
“Usually we are very busy with families coming in to try on items and select what they need, and we have really missed that. But we can still give back and support families – just in a different way – which is the main thing.”
Another initiative from the church is the newly launched pop-up pantry, which is now in it’s second week. The pantry is open every Wednesday from 1pm to 3pm and is completely free of charge with no referral needed.
You simply show up and pack a bag – but the team do ask that you wear a face covering and maintain good social distancing.
Becky Marston explained: “I have been volunteering throughout the pandemic and met a lot of people who were working but are furloughed at the moment.
“One lady in particular had trouble with not being able to get her furlough money, so she obviously found herself in a bad position and needed to access help, even though she’s never had to before. Lots of people are entitled to this kind of help, we are here for anyone.
“If anyone was embarrassed about coming to see us, I’d say just send us a message. There’s no need at all to be embarrassed because we are here to help anyone who might need it.
“You are not alone and it’s nice to see that there are people here willing to help you, no matter whether you are struggling financially or with your mental health. Even if all you need is a chat, come along and help us make things easier for you.”
Nannette Hulse, from CAFAG, added: “There’s a lot of deprivation in our local area and a lot of people struggling – there is a definite need.
“I think people are overwhelmed when they come to see us and realise what they can get for free, but they are always so grateful for what they take.
“It’s good for us to get to know people and build relationships, because we can work with other groups and signpost people to other services if necessary.
“And if people are able and want to help us with more donations then they absolutely can. Every little helps.”
To get involved with the school uniform bank or pop-up pantry, you can visit the Young Disciples Chell Parish Facebook page for more information or to get in touch with the St Michael’s team.