A mum-of-four who started a collection to thank NHS staff as they battled to cope during the coronavirus outbreak has now reached over 30,000 key workers – and she’s not done yet. Victoria Hanson’s Hampers for Heroes idea has grown from offering hand cream to nurses to delivering hundreds of care hampers to thousands of under-pressure staff. VICTORIA now wants to expand the scheme nationally to make sure the heroes working behind the scenes are not forgotten again – even beyond the Covid crisis.
“We want to help people we take for granted, even post-Covid, whenever that might be,” VICTORIA said. “We want them to know they are being thought of and we want to say thank you.”
But to do that Victoria and her team need more funds, with each hamper costing around £70 to put together. They have launched a new plea for donations to keep the initiative going and meet demand, which is growing amid the second wave.
“We do need people to donate as well as nominate,” said Victoria, from Solihull in the West Midlands.
“We want to reach as many people as we can, but we need people to support us too. We are struggling to meet the growing demand as we are inundated with requests and nominations for hampers. We want to reach as many staff as we possibly can and are determined not to disappoint anyone.”
Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, has backed the campaign. He said:
“The way the West Midlands community has come together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has been truly heart-warming, and Hampers for Heroes is a brilliant example of this. NOT ONLY DO THE HAMPERS HELP PUT A SMILE ON THE FACE OF THOSE RECEIVING THEM, BUT THEY ARE ALSO A GREAT WAY FOR THE REST OF US TO GIVE BACK TO THE KEY WORKERS WHO HAVE BEEN ON THE FRONTLINE THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC.”
Victoria, 44, from Solihull, works as a business psychologist, but when coronavirus struck earlier this year, she found her diary emptied. Even with four children aged between three and 15 to look after, she found herself needing something else to fill her time.
When she spotted a social media post from a nurse showing how she and her colleagues were suffering with sore hands she saw a chance to help and began collecting hand cream donations. Within 10 days she had gathered an incredible 3,000 hand creams.
“I wanted to make sure they were distributed fairly and to the people who needed them so I started a Facebook page called Hampers for Heroes and it grew from that,”
Victoria was joined by a dedicated team of helpers and together they turned that idea into a huge distribution network. Husband James was there to help and her children also got stuck in, helping to pack hampers. Volunteers like Lisa McGarvey, who now leads the operations, raises donations, packs hampers and delivers, and Yasmin Paulson, who had volunteered for food banks and ended up building a hamper-making site in her garage, came on board along with dozens of others. At the peak there were around 45 helpers.
“Yasmin and Lisa were core right at the start – they helped me build the idea up and pretty soon we had an incredible team together,” said Victoria. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
In the first 100 days of lockdown her hampers reached over 20,000 NHS staff and since then they have reached thousands more across the West Midlands and Warwickshire. Recipients now also include teachers.
The hampers always include a box of Cadbury’s Heroes chocolates as well as snacks and treats for busy staff, pamper items and even stationery or socks.
Sue Hartley, executive director of nursing at Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, said her staff had been overwhelmed by the kindness of the donations.
“This is a wonderful gift, a gift that keeps on giving, for the community as well as our staff,” she said. “It gives as much to the volunteers as it does to the recipients. Our staff do not see themselves as heroes, they would shy away from that. The fact that the community recognises them as such is fantastic. It’s the little things that matter, like tea and coffee, that enables our staff to take a moment out. The little things that someone has carefully thought about. And it’s the fact that this has come from the community that makes the difference because it’s the community that we serve.”
Annie Sheppard said volunteering with Hampers for Heroes had helped her after losing her mum. “In being part of this team, it has helped me get through the very worst experience of my life,” she said.
Support has also come from organisations in the area, such as BHSF, a not-for-profit health and wellbeing provider, based in Birmingham. It donated £1,000 during the first lockdown, the biggest single donation. Shelley Rowley, chief transformation officer at BHSF, said: “We have a number of staff who have, at some point in their careers, served on the NHS front line. As such, supporting health and social care staff is a cause very close to our hearts, particularly in this exceedingly difficult time.”
And the support works two ways – mental health nurse Zen Leila was so touched by the hamper deliveries that when she created rainbow fob watches to sell to colleagues, she donated the proceeds to Hampers for Heroes.
Victoria added: “This is a long-term initiative that we feel has sufficient community support to see it continue beyond the current pandemic. In reaching the unsung heroes of health and social care settings, as well as those on the frontline, we hope we can bring light to others.”