Wonderful, down to earth people who can’t do enough to help others
10 October 2018 | North East England
The friends who have built a one-stop shop to give local families a helping hand.
When South Tyneside community group Hebburn Helps was chosen as a TSB Local Charity Partner, founders Jo Dirkin and Angie Comerford met the team at the Hebburn Branch.
The impact they had was instant. TSB area manager Ivor Coulter said: “When we held our welcome meeting last year, Jo and Angie almost brought the whole room to tears. They are wonderful, down to earth people who absolutely care about their local community.”
Jo, 49, and Angie, 42, literally can’t do enough to help others. And they have built an army of volunteers to extend that helping hand.
The pair started Hebburn Helps in 2015, initially as a food bank for people in their South Tyneside town. Three years on, they are a one-stop shop for anyone struggling to make ends meet, offering everything from pre-loved white goods to a school uniform exchange.
Jo, a mum-of-five, said: “I’m a seamstress and I had a shop that closed down, so I’ve had help myself in the past.
“I set up a Facebook group asking for donations as I could see there was a need and a couple of days later, Angie showed up with some bags of shopping. It all went from there.”
From their base at South Tyneside Children’s Centre, the women and their volunteers coordinate collection and delivery of donations, and think up new ways to make a difference.
Over the summer they secured government funding for a holiday hunger scheme called Grub Club, serving up lunches and activities for more than 200 children.
Last Christmas the group collected donations of toys that found happy homes with more than 250 families and this year they are making up ‘blessing bags’ for those on the streets, to help them survive the winter weather.
They are also planning to give out toys, pet food and selection boxes to struggling households and cook a festive meal for vulnerable groups.
Jo said: “Anywhere there is a need, we will do our best to help. For example, we loaned prom dresses to five girls this year and got their hair and make-up done.
“It made us feel wonderful to help them feel like a princess for the day.”
Since starting, the scheme has expanded to cover Jarrow and South Shields when called on, as well as working with homelessness charities and women’s refuges.
Tina Tribe, a single mum of three, has been supported by the project. She said: “Despite working full time, I found myself in need of a food parcel. I was talking to the wonderful Jo and it all spilled out. There was no judgement – just kindness and support.”
Another mum, Natasha Nicholson, said: “They are much more than just a food bank. They are a shoulder to cry on, a support system, a confidence builder and above all a friend for life. I think a lot of families would go under without them.”
Jo said: “I put all my time into Hebburn Helps now. We are completely volunteer-led and I get so much satisfaction from it.
“People are always dropping in to see what we are doing and how they can help. We also get about ten families coming through the door a day for help.
“We have ten volunteers in the centre and up to 100 in total for other activities.
“It’s made a big difference to Hebburn from the feedback we get. It brings us to tears, especially when families get back on their feet and come in to help others.”