URGENT food parcels are being handed to rough sleepers and people at risk of homelessness thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s coronavirus response fund.

The fund, which has raised more than £200,000 in a week, has been set up to help voluntary groups in Wiltshire and Swindon meet immediate need during the pandemic.

It has given £3,000 to Doorway in Chippenham, which supports hundreds of people who are sleeping rough or who have been recently housed, many of whom have mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction. As well as food and emotional support, the charity’s staff provide housing and benefit advice as well as helping connect its clients to health services.

Chief executive Joanna Kitching said the charity’s supply chain of food has all but dried up. “The money is going towards the fact we are not getting the donations from churches, schools and community groups that we are used to getting. People aren’t really donating at supermarkets the way they were either,” she said.

“Our reserves are now running low and we are at the point where we are going to have to buy food. This grant is so helpful because it will allow us to keep going with supporting these very vulnerable people.”

She said the grant will also pay for a member of staff needed to replace another worker who is self-isolating and help with fuel bills for outreach workers who are trying to locate rough sleepers to give them food parcels and other supplies.

Mrs Kitching said Doorway staff continues to be available at its Foghamshire base every Monday and Thursday, although it can’t let people into the centre because of social distancing.

She said: “Lots of face to face services have had to close down, which means groups like Doorway who deal with the people in the most difficult of circumstances really have to do all they can to stay open. We can’t open our sessions in the way we normally do so we have to be a bit more flexible. But we can’t not be here, the team feels very strongly that we have to do everything we can to stay open.

“Ware providing advice about Universal Credit, gas and electricity and other housing issues. The helplines are clogged, and other services have had to close so people are turning to us.

The most recent session saw 22 people at the charity’s door. Staff fed them and passed on advice and support. Mrs Kitching is expecting that number to increase.

“In a couple of weeks, we will see the numbers probably double because we will be known as being here. We’ve only been in lockdown for a week, imagine what people will be like after four weeks?” she said.

“We will also see more people who have been sleeping on sofas become homeless as tenants of those places will potentially not be willing to put up with someone on their sofa because these are tricky times. People are losing their jobs right, left and centre and that is making the situation worse.”

To donate to Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or find out how to apply, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.