It is usually a case of eyes down for a full house at Mecca Bingo in Swansea, but over the last few months there it has been more a question of eyes being opened.
Life has been anything but normal and the eyes which have been opened up belong to volunteers who have made the emergency collective Swansea Together such an inspiring success.
Since March more than 25,000 meals have been delivered from Mecca’s kitchen to the city’s vulnerable and health and social care key workers in response to the pandemic.
So, instead of staff running popular bingo sessions and ensuring its loyal membership have a good time out, they have linked up with other organisations to prepare, cook and distribute meals and care packages when and where needed.
Its been a mammoth task with over 100 volunteers and 55 organisations making their welcome presence felt by vulnerable people.
Being homeless and staying in temporary accommodation means no way of cooking or storing food, and instead a reliance on buying ready-to-eat food which is inevitably a lot more expensive than raw ingredients. For this reason, the daily hot food parcels have been essential for people to continue being fed throughout the lockdown period in particular, as well as ensuring those in accommodation stay as safe as possible.
Swansea charities Matthew’s House and Zac’s Place started the ball rolling and Mecca Bingo immediately came on board as operational headquarters, with Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris also playing a leading role.
Gratitude has been plain to see
The feedback received from those who have benefited says it all.
“I feel that someone cares,” said one. “If not for the food parcel, I would have gone hungry for many days”
Another simply said: “Your empathy is so precious.”
Praise for the volunteers’ dedication, selflessness and commitment was fulsome, with one recipient saying: “You all make our time indoors a lot easier, so thanks.”
A volunteer’s tale
Emma Thatcher normally work at Mecca Bingo as a chef, but wouldn’t have swapped her time as a Swansea Together volunteer for anything.
“It has truly been amazing to help the vulnerable, including the elderly and homeless people within our community,” she said. “The feedback we have received has made us all feel so proud and emotional. Knowing that we have helped so many people is priceless.
“We had lovely cards of gratitude. I have even made a lockdown scrapbook to keep of all of these beautiful memories. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else during this pandemic and massive thanks to Mecca for letting this happen.”
Pride at a job well done
Every one of the team can look back with extreme pride at the way they rose to the challenge put before them to make life more bearable for those who needed help in difficult times.
Mecca Bingo was honoured to take on the role of being the operational hub for distribution. They are grateful there for all the business community donations of goods which were converted into care packages for distribution.
Click to play
Tap to play
Supporting the people that need it the most was an initiative Mecca Bingo began last year with its participation in the city’s Where’s Doris campaign, something which is continuing, and staff there were pleased to be given the chance to take their efforts to a new level over the past few months.
“My small team of volunteers – Gaynor Robinson, Emma Thatcher, Adam Davies and Abbie Berry – worked tirelessly four days a week to provide an essential service which started on March 25,” said general manager Kim Jones. “This service grew week on week and we branched out. Not only were we providing necessary support to the most vulnerable but we started serving hot food/buffets to our front line team and key workers.
“We also worked alongside the local area coordinators of Swansea Council to help them get care packages or hot meals to their most vulnerable people within their areas. Swansea Council has been paramount in this initiative, with people like Paul John, Jason Battye, Chris Finchley, Wynford Werrett, Luke Williams and Josh Battye working tirelessly getting our packages and meals delivered. Some days we were cooking over 500 meals and these fabulous people were distributing them.
“Alll in all, Mecca alone provided over 25,000 meals and care packages to support our city’s most vulnerable people. Without the Swansea Together initiative, we would never have been able to cover everybody in need and come together as a community the way we did.
“The thank you emails, letters and messages we have received has been heartwarming. Just knowing that we were able to help was enough for us, but knowing how much that help meant to these people is second to none. We will continue to support the Swansea Together programme for as long as they need us.”
True superstars with community spirit
“I really cannot describe in words what being a part of the Swansea Together initiative has meant to us,” said Kim. “We had no idea how much this would grow and absolutely didn’t realise how many vulnerable people we have in our community.
“The work of Matthew’s House and all of the others involved have put in has been imperative in keeping the community together and keeping spirits upbeat in what has been a terrible time for most. We cannot thank enough the businesses that pulled together and donated. Week after week in some instances, without their products and support, we may not have been able to care for the community the way we have.
“I am so grateful for the fabulous Mecca team members that effortlessly volunteered and came in each day in their own time. Without their hard work and dedication during this pandemic, there would have been people in our community that could have gone without a hot meal for months. It’s so sad to think of what would have happened without this initiative and I can honestly say I am honoured to have been a part of it. Long may our community spirit continue. Thank you so much again to all involved, true superstars!”
It’s good to be back
Bingo players made it back to Mecca on August 3 and can now enjoy a couple of regular new features.
Every Friday from 9pm there is Rock ‘N’ Roll bingo, which is a really lively and fun version of bingo to music.
If competitive trivia is more your thing, there is a quiz night every Tuesday from 9pm. On both nights it is only £2 to enter, with over £50 in prizes.
Mecca Bingo, Carmarthen Road, Cwmdu, Cwmbwrla, Swansea, SA5 8LJ.
Call 01792 580208 or visit the website.