Operation Oban – feeding the needy during COVID-19

Volunteers at the Corran Halls

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A heart-warming volunteer effort got under way in Oban last week to ensure hundreds of food parcels got out to those in need.

Nearly 350 boxes – brought in by lorry, packed by volunteers and then delivered by council staff – were distributed in just two days.

Dozens of vulnerable people living across Oban, Lorn, Dunbeg, Appin, Seil, Taynuilt, Connel and Mull, have all benefited.

The epicentre of the operation was the Corran Halls, where dozens of crates of food had been brought in by lorry from Glasgow.

The job of making up individual parcels has fallen to 16 local volunteers, overseen by Andy Spence, chief executive of the Bid4Oban business group.

Argyll and Bute Council staff have then helped load-up local authority minibuses to make deliveries far and wide.

The vital supplies were delivered to people stuck indoors self-isolating from COVID-19 as lockdown now enters its third month.

Some residents are unable to call on relatives or friends while others in the ‘shielded’ group have to stay at home and not risk shopping trips.

As a result, Oban’s major entertainment venue has at times resembled a UN mercy mission.

The main hall has been stacked with food crates containing pasta, noodles, cereals, UHT milk, meatballs, jam, toilet tissue, tuna and biscuits, all topped up with bread, potatoes and oats from local suppliers keen to contribute.

Volunteers have included mums, students, scientists, shopkeepers and architects.

Among the volunteers were Aidan MacDougall, 25, of Taynuilt, on furlough from his day job as a joiner with Oban Joinery Services Ltd

‘I just wanted to do something productive with all the spare time that I found myself with and wanted to help people in the community,’ explained Aidan, carting cardboard boxes to and fro.

Strapping lads Ellis Hunter and Ally Lilley were part of the assembly line, as was mum and daughter Kate and Emily Hunter, all from Taynuilt.

Council traffic warden Juwel Faisal seemed only too happy to swap his day job for the role of delivery driver.

And council driver Iain Hibbert, who usually takes the elderly out on minibus day trips, was visibly touched by the reaction on doorsteps.

‘It has been very well received,’ said Mr Hibbert. ‘People have shed tears of joy. They are not expecting it and it has given them a fantastic boost.

‘I feel very proud to be part of this and feel that the Scottish Government has been amazing,’ he said.

Indeed, special notes with each box read that the council, the NHS and the Scottish Government wanted recipients to know: ‘You are not alone’.

Andy Spence of Bid4Oban was called in to help due to his 22 years with Homebase where managing logistics was all part of the day job.

Mr Spence said: ‘It’s a huge mix of people giving up their free time which is really important. We couldn’t have done it without them and I have been blown away by their support, enthusiasm and speed.’

Hand-sanitiser, gloves, face masks and social distancing were all a feature of the day.

Yet Operation Oban is just one cog in a much larger wheel, said Argyll and Bute Council.

In the last week alone, it revealed that 4,000 food parcels had gone out across its patch, the second largest council territory in the whole of Scotland.

Councillor Aileen Morton, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said: ‘Despite such challenging circumstances, our communities have shown remarkable resilience coming together to make sure people are not left on their own.

‘We are delighted to have played our part in delivering essential food items to people across our communities.

‘This massive effort has only been made possible by working with our partners, existing community groups, local businesses and the army of volunteers who help us every week.

Anyone who needs help accessing food is urged to contact the council’s Caring for People helpline on 01546 605524, between Mon-Friday, 9am to 5pm.