WEEKS after the coronavirus pandemic started to spread here in Sussex, Argus readers pitched in to help the most vulnerable through an emergency appeal.

The Sussex Crisis Fund was launched by the Sussex Community Foundation on March 20, 2020, days before the first national lockdown began.

The Argus Appeal and American Express each contributed £50,000 to kickstart the fundraising and within just three weeks more than half a million pounds had been raised.

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The Argus helped to promote the appeal and donations quickly flooded in.

By mid-May the fund had reached £1.5 million, and in August it hit £2 million. The fund has now raised an incredible £2.8 million to support people affected by the pandemic across the county, with a total of 639 grants given out.

The Argus: Caroline Henderson and volunteer Anna Schwartz cooking meals for delivery at Food and Friendship in HoveCaroline Henderson and volunteer Anna Schwartz cooking meals for delivery at Food and Friendship in Hove

Food and Friendship in Hove was one of the first charities to receive a grant.

The charity, which normally provides a lunch club for older people twice a week at Hove Methodist Church, began delivering hot meals to isolated and vulnerable people across the city, free of charge.

As it adapted to become a delivery service and had lost income in order to provide free meals on wheels, the £5,000 grant took “a huge weight off the shoulders” of co-ordinator Caroline Henderson, who said: “The crisis fund has been so brilliant – I cannot tell you how much. The money was in our account within a week.”

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Grants were also paid to the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and The Bevy community pub, who were also working hard to deliver food to those in self-isolation.

Community groups and charities were forced to adapt quickly to support those in need, including people who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Brighton Table Tennis Club set up a food hub back in April and began distributing food parcels from its car park in Upper Bedford Street in Kemp Town, while also making use of its minibus to deliver food and cooked meals.

Funding was distributed to a wide range of groups offering all kinds of support to people during lockdown, including domestic abuse charities such as Rise and Time To Talk Befriending, which tackles chronic loneliness in older people in Brighton and Hove and Worthing.

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Many charities also benefitted from thousands of pounds in grants to buy IT equipment and move their services online.

The Argus: Jasper, 7, doing an online physiotherapy session after Neurokinex received a £5k grant from the crisis fundJasper, 7, doing an online physiotherapy session after Neurokinex received a £5k grant from the crisis fund

Neurokinex, which supports people of all ages with neurological disorders and paralysis, had to close its gym in Crawley when the pandemic hit. Thanks to a £5,000 grant, it was able to launch virtual physiotherapy sessions for vulnerable people.

Seven-year-old Jasper Thornton-Jones, who had a stroke in his spinal cord when he was young, was among those making use of the sessions.

His mum and fundraising director at Neurokinex Kate said the money was really important to provide the virtual sessions to prevent people going into hospital with any secondary problems.

Shelley Bennett, a trustee at Pelican Parcels, a charity which distributes essential items to low-income families, said a grant from the crisis fund had been “critical” to expand its services. The charity was able to send items such as cots, buggies and nappies to those in need, as well as sending supplies to food banks.

The Argus: Pelican Parcels volunteers Janet McCord, Lynn Woodard and Immi WhitePelican Parcels volunteers Janet McCord, Lynn Woodard and Immi White

Chief executive of the Sussex Community Foundation Kevin Richmond said the fund is still open for donations, and the organisation is now looking at how best to help charities in the months ahead.

He said: “I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who donated their money or their time over the last year, and a massive thank you to the charities who have been so innovative in the ways they responded to work in a completely different way.

“Somehow, we’ve got to do it again and find a way to keep supporting these charities as we still need them.

“There’s a really high level of need and in some ways it feels worse now than in the first lockdown as it’s been going on so long. Staff and volunteers are exhausted as they’ve been working flat out.

“Charities say they’re now seeing people who have never been in financial trouble before having to get debt advice and visit food banks, while the people who were already in need are in even greater need.

“It’s quite a stark message.”

To donate, visit totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/sussexcrisisfund.

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