Heather Harries, her husband and their three children started Stop and Help with the aim of lifting community spirits during the Coronavirus pandemic. A month later, a team of 50 volunteers, working around the clock, have managed to match 2,000 families across the Emirates with people who can provide support.

Heather tells British Mums her story:

About four weeks ago (March 22nd to be precise) I realised that the small amount of support that I was offering to a few families who had been affected by the Coronavirus crisis was probably not enough to make a difference. I am fortunate that my children go to Dubai British School and with the support of donations from the PTA there, I knew that the few families receiving support, could maybe stretch as far as 50 families. A whole community and four weeks later, this initiative has touched the lives of over 2,000 families in Dubai and it is continuing to grow.

The very small Facebook page that started a month ago with a few kind people is called Stop and Help. It now has nearly 4,000 members, and was set up to ensure that a match was made between people who could help and people who needed help. The saying “it takes a village to raise a family” could never be truer than it is today. A whole city has stepped forward to help those in need. We set out with the objective of only supporting families with children living in Dubai; hunger is terrible at any level, but children being hungry in today’s world and in a first-world location like Dubai was something I simply could not sit back and watch. Luckily, a whole team of like-minded people agreed and have pulled together to make Stop and Help more than just a simple platform of help. It has grown into a family of help and support processing literally 1,000s of requests from families who have not been paid and have no savings and are living in fear of losing their homes let alone where the next meal will come from.

Growth like this has not been without teething problems. We have had to find software to support the processing of so many requests, people to handle the emails, a marketing team to let people know what is happening – and above all, a huge network of people who are happy to share what they have, in order to ensure our end goal of keeping families fed during this unprecedented crisis. We were so lucky that Amy Grace from Custom No 9, came on board early on and designed our logo and set our brand on track – little did we know four weeks ago it was going to be such an important part of our jigsaw. So many people have stepped forward from so many walks of life this has only been possible with their help and they all work round the clock to make sure families they have never met have food on their tables. While developing this programme of support we have also been able to partner with businesses, supporting them to stay afloat and help them to keep on their staff paid and in work.

We still need more support from the community. We have a few ways that giving can be done. We value time and we need volunteers with skills in legal, HR, data processing, social media, logistics, but most importantly we need people who can support the families in need themselves.

There are a number of ways of doing this. The first is quite simply to do an online grocery shop to a value of about AED200 and this will feed a family for about 10 days. The families are so delighted and we love the response from them as they can’t believe their good fortune to even receive just a bag of rice.

Prior to the restrictions the other option was to deliver groceries to one central location, so you could send us washing powder, soap, rice, long-life milk, pasta etc., through a delivery company and we would then make up community boxes containing essential groceries for a week, we add a few toys and books and then we ask a kind sponsor to send out a set of boxes to an area with a few families via a taxi. The cost can be from AED50-100 to do this and we can feed 10 families at a time fairly quickly – remember online shopping can take up to a week at the moment. This part of the programme is on hold as we navigate new ways to ensure support can reach families as quickly as possible, but we see this as being important once restrictions are lifted again.

Remember, the problem is bigger than just food. Families who have lost their jobs have also lost access to medical insurance and we are supporting an increasing number of mums-to-be that now have nothing, not even insurance to deliver their babies in hospitals. Through our emergency support we have been able to get newborn packs of clothes, nappies, cots etc., out to these families to remove some of the stress and enable them to care for their babies more effectively, again we need support to navigate Government directives to be able to get this up and running again since the new directives came in place.

With so much kindness out there, this initiative, which has grown, quicker and bigger than I could ever have imagined possible just four weeks ago, it has been the most incredible journey, meeting so many generous, lovely people all willing and wanting to just help. Many hands do indeed make light work and the effect is huge, if every person sponsors one box sent directly from a supermarket and online to avoid any possible further spread of COVID and then they ask their friend to sponsor one box and they ask their friend and so on, we can all quickly make a huge difference. Remember any action from a bag of rice to a full grocery order will quite literally change a family’s life.

Heartbreaking stories come in every single day, and we do our best to prioritize although how you can do this when every family we support is without income, hungry and frightened. The priorities are impossible to rank but the heartbreak is always so worth it with the beautiful poignant messages that families send back in their hundreds to thank us for literally giving them a life line at this time.

How long this crisis will last, nobody really knows, we all know that it will not be a quick recovery, however the lifting of some restrictions this week means that for some a return to work will result in income and this will certainly help. Is it too early for us to return to normality, I am sure it is but the options for so many are few.

What we need now, so that we can continue to support so many families from all walks of life, nationalities and religions is for you get behind any one of the numerous initiatives out there and help just one family to eat. We need everyone who can afford even just one small grocery shop to help and spread the message so we can all make a real difference; financial pressures affect families in so many ways and at a time like this mental health and resilience are the most important strengths for everyone. If we can lighten the load with something as simple as a bag of rice, it simply does not make sense to not just find the time and place that order online and send it.  Stop and Help is a community initiative that matches people in need with people who can help. We simply exchange contact details between the family in need and a family who is willing to help and you dispatch a week’s worth of food to a maximum value of 200 dhs. The value is up to you, kindness and thoughtfulness for others is free. Even if you just persuade one other family to send an order your kindness will have made a huge difference.

If you can help with a donation, please just fill in this simple form and we will send you a family in need of help by return. Your details are not shared with the family so you can remain anonymous or you can contact them the choice is entirely yours. https://form.jotform.com/Heather68/kindnessregistry

If you would like to volunteer please just drop an email to volunteerstopandhelp@gmail.com

Written by British Mum Heather Harries.