There with you: Café owner feeds Weston after being ‘horrified’ by stockpiling

Bonnie, Bev and Leanne feed hospital workers, the homeless and vulnerable people in the town.

Bonnie, Bev and Leanne feed hospital workers, the homeless and vulnerable people in the town. - Credit: Archant

A selfless seafront café owner has kept her business open to feed hospital staff, the homeless and to stop vulnerable and anxious people from having to go out for groceries.

Leanne Caton, of Weston Beach Café, started helping people in isolation within 24 hours of the coronavirus lockdown last month, after encountering a bad experience in her local supermarket.

She said: “I don’t watch much TV or read newspapers, so when I visited a supermarket mid-March, prior to social distancing, I was shocked at the lack of essential supplies available and I stood there and watched people. Most were taking it in their stride, but I saw some of the elderly and a few from younger generations with looks of sheer anxiety on their faces.

“I was absolutely horrified. I felt anxious myself, but I thought if I’m feeling slightly fearful, how must others be feeling who are vulnerable or of a nervous disposition?

“I witnessed at least one person on a phone shouting at who he was speaking to and another arguing with a member of staff. It was like a nightmare that I needed to escape.”

A few days later when the café was forced to close, she decided to find a way to use her facilities to help the elderly and vulnerable avoid supermarkets.

So she began cooking good-quality ready meals with the help of her sister Bonnie Keeble, who runs Johanna’s Tea Room, a mobile unit usually based at Salthouse Fields in Clevedon, and offering everyday essentials which she can get delivered from wholesalers at cost price.

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Orders flooded in from regular customers, as well as new ones who had heard about what the pair were doing, and it became a seven-day-a-week job, so Leanne enlisted staff member Beverley Callan to help too.

Leanne said: “We have received so many messages of support and appreciation that it has become a pleasure to work voluntarily. We’ve managed to get a couple of early finishes but days off can wait until this is all over, even if it takes months.

“The most important thing is providing a service which potentially keeps people at home.”

On Easter Sunday the team delivered 128 roast dinners to 42 homes and started dropping off refreshments at Weston Hospital, and a request to supply a team of 15 in ICU swiftly followed.

Leanne said: “They were happy to pay but I couldn’t possibly charge them when they are working so selflessly.”

To be able to continue, Leanne set up a Pay It Forward scheme so people can gift a meal for a frontline worker or vulnerable person and a Just Giving page for NHS workers. But after some generous donations, this has slowed and she is worried she will soon have to use her own funds again.

She said: “I would love to be able to carry on providing the nurses with meals for the duration of this awful pandemic. “We had a couple of not so nice messages from people saying we should be giving to the food banks instead, as NHS staff are not affected financially, which made me wonder if I was doing the right thing. But after receiving some lovely messages from nurses thanking us for the meals it quashed any doubts I was having.

“Some of them are working double shifts and don’t have time to prepare food for themselves, so often go without. It’s not about financial status, it’s about making things slightly easier for them in any way possible.

“Even if it’s just to bring a smile to their face, that’s good enough for me and everyone that donates to our fundraiser.”

The caring team also supplies meals to the homeless three or four times a week, through the Feed the Homeless W-S-M Facebook group.

Leanne added: “I could not provide this service without the help of Bonnie and Bev, so I want to say a big thank you to them both.”

The Just Giving page can be accessed here.