IT all started thanks to donations left for containers of real ale.
But now, after organising more than 4,500 meals during the pandemic, Alcester businesswoman Mandy Downes is starting to wind down what has turned out to be a massive community effort.
Run out of her delicatessen, Pantry Ann’s in Alcester High Street and backed by a host of businesses, community groups and Alcester Town Council, the service has provided meals not only for the elderly and vulnerable but also for cancer patients and families struggling on the breadline.
Deliveries have ranged far and wide too, taking in Stratford, Bromsgrove and Droitwich as well as Alcester itself and surrounding areas.
Now Mandy and her partner Andrew Bown are concentrating on reopening their real ale pub, The Three Tuns, also in the High Street, where the entire venture first began.
“With real ale if you don’t sell it within three days you have to throw it away,” said Mandy.
“When lockdown came we had so much surplus we decided to offer it to the public in return for donations.
“Those donations gave me the incentive to start up the free meals.”
What she hadn’t bargained for was how the scheme would take off.
“It just got too big, too quickly. I contacted Town Councillor Andrew Foster from Alcester Community Resilience to ask for volunteers to help with deliveries which he readily agreed to,” said Mandy.
“We were doing in excess of 300 meals a week and asked the town council if they could help with money and they in return have been tremendous.”
Backing came from the Heart of England Community Foundation and Alcester’s St Nick’s Association, as well as private companies.
“I had outside bakers helping, people like Maggie Payne (wife of former District Council chair Eric Payne) who herself was shielding,” said Mandy.
“I’d drop the ingredients off, she’d cook the meals and I’d come and pick them up.”
Although the service is winding down, for those who still need it, the deliveries will continue.
“The entire thing has been phenomenal and I’m so glad I was involved, but I’m taking a step back now to concentrate on The Three Tuns,” said Mandy.
“We’re doing it with a degree of trepidation. We’re a very small real ale pub, no music, pool table or TV and 95 per cent of our income comes through the ale. We’re just hoping there are no more restrictions to the lockdown.”
In a statement, Alcester Town Council said: “We have been delighted to work with Pantry Ann’s in this project.
“We secured grants from the Heart of England Community Fund and have been extremely grateful to Mandy and her team of volunteers and they have lifted spirits, provided first class food and, most importantly, showed those in need we were thinking of them.”