Serving our Superheroes started out as a project to help prevent the cross-contamination of COVID-19, by providing laundry bags to the NHS and other front line care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early April 2020, I started what I thought would be a short-term project….
It started, after a phone call from my friend Laura, a nurse. She shared her concerns over cross contamination (nurses and other hospital care workers have to take their uniforms home to wash them). She had a young baby at home and the virus was so new and unknown. At the time, there was a fear that it could spread through particles in the air. We talked about how it may spread and how we could prevent it. She explained that she put her uniform in a plastic bag to take home but was worried when she took the uniform out of the plastic bag, to put it in the washing machine, particles might escape into the air in her kitchen. She was also then throwing the plastic bag and using another one each day. We discussed options for laundry bags and remembered when we were at school, my mum had made me a draw string bag for PE. I suggested that this may work, perhaps she could put her uniform in this, and this could go straight in the washing machine when she got home.
At the time I couldn’t use a sewing machine, but I had brought one a while previously, with the intention of learning how to use it. I called my mum to ask if she could make a laundry bag and did she think the idea would work?
Later that day I thought we need a large quality of bags, and we need them urgently. I could learn to sew? but this would be too slow, and we needed hundreds of laundry bags as soon as possible.
I am a Project Manager, in my day job, with a background in Marketing, so I thought I would put my project and marketing skills to work. I set to work drawing up instructions using a design, based on a simple laundry bag my mum had made for me years ago. I also designed a simple logo. I put a call for volunteers via the local resident’s association and Rotary club (which at the time I had just enquired about joining) also via the local churches and contacted sewing groups. I then set up a Facebook page and posted in the local groups. I sent messages to friends and family and asked them to spread the word. I couldn’t believe it; we had a great response from the local community. Hundreds, then thousands of bags were made by volunteers in the local community.
If you look closely at our logo you will see it has a sewing needle, representing our beginning of sewing in the community.
The name Serving Our Superheroes was used as the initials spelt SOS, and we were helping (serving) our superheroes (the front-line NHS workers).
The Laundry bags were all handmade, by sewing fabric together, any material we could get our hands on, old bedsheets and curtains etc.
I even learnt to use my sewing machine and made a small quantity myself. I went around collecting the washbags, people would call me and leave them in the front gardens or drives (during lockdown), some people would deliver to my house, and I would deliver them to care homes and hospitals. Kirsty, also a nurse, who I was a school governor with at the time, took a large quantity to an isolation centre which was local to us.
It was the height of the pandemic, and I was working full time, homeschooling the children and had several other voluntary roles. I needed to distribute the laundry bags, ensuring that enough laundry bags were given out. This was logistically difficult because each place had different rules about what could be donated and how I could get the items into the hospital. The virus was unknown, and I was visiting lots of hospitals and didn’t want to bring the virus home to my family or spread it between hospitals. I even completed a online course on how to correctly put on PPE and how to reduce the risk of spreading infections.
The logistics of working, homeschooling two young children, along with keeping a track on what stock I had coming in and where it was going, along with balancing supply and demand was, at times, very complicated.
I didn’t want people to waste time producing more bags then necessary, and I also didn’t want to not have enough bags to go around. I would call the local hospitals and care homes and find out how many they needed. I kept a spreadsheet of how many I collected in, how many more were needed, where the next batch was going etc and who was making what. I would then drive around between home school lessons and between work meetings – at lunch time, after work and in the evenings and at weekends.
It was a stressful time, but also very rewarding. There was a real sense of community, and everyone came together to help. The virus was unknown, and it was at times a real worry going into the hospitals. However, knowing that I was helping made a difference and kept me going. I thought back to my granny telling me about the war and how everyone pulled together to help out, it felt like that. The community was united against the lethal virus that we could not see.
I really wanted to make a difference and help out and I also became a volunteer vaccinator, doing shifts at the weekends, as well as delivering items for the charity. It helped having a sense of purpose and feeling like I was doing something useful. All of the volunteers who had been making washbags for me, also said it gave them something to focus on, a sense of purpose and kept them going during lockdown.
We provided over 2,400 laundry bags in the space of a few months. By July 2020 most of the local hospitals and care homes had been supplied.
At the time I was also a trustee of Hounslow Community Foodbox (a role that I did for over 4 years). During the pandemic the need for Foodbanks had significantly increased. We continued producing some laundry bags, but as we found that the requirements for Foodbanks was increasing, I designed new bags, based on the design of the washbags (with a draw string) but this time with handles. The idea was to reduce the need for plastic bags, which weren’t always large enough for the large family parcel, plastic bags were also liable to split. The fabric bags were environmentally friendly, helping to reduce plastic waste. The customers of the foodbanks could also re-use the bags. The were made from re-cycled fabric mainly old curtains, bedding and clothes that had cut up and washed.
We distributed these to Foodbanks including Hounslow Community Foodbox, The Good Shepherd Church, Disability Network Hounslow - DNH & also Care leavers we also gave some to other charities for them to put their donations in and distribute. We donated a total of 3,365 bags to Foodbanks and other charities.
The project continued to evolve as the needs of the community evolved. In July 2020 one of the nurses asked if we could make smaller bags, so that they could fill them with toiletries. She explained that people are arriving in hospital with no toiletries (toiletries aren’t provided on the NHS and they rely upon donations). I said we could provide smaller bags but I would also try to get toiletries to fill them. We asked the local community and friends and family and started getting toiletries donated. A fellow Rotarian had a hair wholesaler and provided hundreds of sample sachets of shampoo and conditioner. A few hotels that were closed down also gave us some of their stock.
I decided I wanted to do more and help the homeless too. There were still so many people who were homeless. Even though the government had set up a scheme to house people in hotels, there were still a lot of people living on the streets. I contacted several homeless charities, including Shower Box and we started supplying toiletries for the homeless. Prior to lockdown I had wanted to help the homeless, but I wasn’t sure how, now was my chance to.
I soon realised that this was not going to be a short-term project. The demand for the toiletry packs was so great, that we could no longer rely on donations from friends and family and so we registered as a charity on 22nd September 2020. Becoming a registered charity made a real difference. It allowed us to register with In-kind direct and purchase toiletries and period products at a reduced rate.
It soon became a family effort, with all hands-on deck my sister helped me pack bags, my young children helped with packing them and then my husband helped with deliveries. My sister and husband became trustees of the charity. My mum helped watch the children and also helped us to wrap the baby packs. Fellow Rotarians helped sewing bags, masks and fiddle muffs.
As the project grew it moved from the dining room to a production line being set up in the garage. We spent many long nights in my garage, when the children were in bed packing washbags. One of our friends gave us an old gas heater to keep up warm as we worked away. In the summer we set up in the garden and friends came over to help with the packing. My daughter (just a toddler at the time) became known as the ‘Chief Packer’ (and introduced herself to the Mayor as chief packer when he asked her name). We packed over 10,000 washbags by hand, mainly in my garage.
The early washbags included a dental kit, shampoo and conditioner, shower gel, moisturiser and some had combs, nail clippers, nail files, vanity kits, flannels, deodorant. We also had facemasks made and we put 2 material facemasks in each washbag (that way they could wear one and wash one). I was keen that a dental kit (toothbrush and toothpaste) was included in every kit. Dental hygiene is important for overall health. Poor dental hygiene may lead to heart disease, gingivitis, stroke, osteoporosis, and respiratory disease. In addition to causing bad breath, inadequate dental hygiene can also affect one’s ability to eat, chew, and talk. According to the World Health Organisation, good dental hygiene can lower the risks of Dementia.
Serving Our Superheroes also purchased sanitary towels and Tampax to help end period poverty. We donated hand made fabric face masks with each wash bag and we got PPE that we gave out.
Hygiene poverty is so prevalent and not everyone realises how prevalent it is and how important it is, to give toiletries. Such a simple gift can make such a big difference to people. Being able to wash, stay clean and clean your teeth is something many of us take for granted, for some people they don’t have this – we give out basics to people in need at their time in need.
As well as giving out the toiletry packs to the NHS and the homeless, we also started supporting domestic violence charities. Unfortunately, during lockdown domestic violence was on the rise. There were many women who had fled their homes with nothing, some with children. It was important that we helped to provide what we could, until they could get back on their feet.
During lock down most the charity shops were closed, as people were stuck at home they were clearing out things that they no longer needed and a lot of items ended up in the dump, yet there were so many people in need, so with others we started taking donations of toys etc people would bring them to the house, we also teamed up with another charity who drive around collecting items. We cleaned up and fixed up what we could, packaged it up and donated it to children’s hospices and other places. We took cots, mosses baskets, changing stations, highchairs etc and gave them to people in need along with new baby clothes, which were donated to us.
We also worked closely with the Hillingdon Hospital Complex Care team and gave baby items to pregnant ladies and new mums who were living in poverty and needed items for their babies. Our volunteers knitted baby clothes, hats and blankets that we were also able to give to new mums in need, throughout the year, although particularly at Christmas, when we made up bespoke hampers with luxury items for the mums, as well as the baby supplies.
We also provide dementia aids (fiddle/twiddle muffs) in conjunction with the Rotary Club. Our volunteers also made emotion dolls for the schools, once the children went back after lockdown, because many children were suffering with their mental health. The emotional teddies and puppets were used by specially qualified members of staff, who were providing emotional support to the school children.
We also provide clothes, sleeping bags, shoes, and snacks to the homeless. We work with many other charities including the London Community Kitchen, Ealing Community Aid and for the love of scrubs Hillingdon working group. We also partnered with ‘Dress a girl around the world’ to support those in need.
Basically, anything we could get and give to people in need, we did!
The Women’s institute knitted blankets and made quilted blankets, which we distributed.
When I wasn’t packing bags, I was on the phone sorting out the logistics, planning what we needed to get for people and taking inventories of what we had and planning the deliveries. I also volunteered as a COVID care caller, calling up vulnerable residents during the pandemic. Additionally, during the pandemic I became a community champion (a role that I still undertake), on behalf of H4ALL.
In April 2021, one year into the pandemic, Serving Our Superheroes started providing school uniforms because furlough had hit, families were struggling, and children were back at school and in May 2021. We distributed children’s clothes and worked with another charity to obtain excess stock of school uniforms from supermarket, which we gave to schools to help with the cost-of-living crisis. Serving Our Superheroes started collaborating with dress a girl and supplying summer dresses in the UK. Dress a girl had been unable to send dresses to girls in 3rd world countries, due to lockdown and travel restrictions. We had families in the UK in need of children’s clothes and we were approaching the warm weather. We therefore started providing summer dresses to schools to give out to families. Our sewing volunteers then started making summer dresses too and we worked with many other charities to distribute these. When the weather turned colder and we no longer needed the cotton dresses in the UK we teamed up with our charities who were sending containers abroad and gave them dresses, as part of our partnership with Dress a Girl to send the dresses abroad. We also sent excess face masks when it was no longer mandatory to wear face masks in the UK and we also sent excess stock of other items in the containers.
We updated our constitution to go international, to allow us to do this. Our volunteers started making dresses (and still do, with the dress patterns made by Dress a Girl around the world). Our volunteers use the design and make cotton PJs for the local children’s hospitals.
Through a charity I volunteer for Click Rukiga, we also sent the patterns for dresses and face masks, which were made by the Youth in Development Project and distributed in Uganda. We started sending items abroad and we update our constitution to become international on 26th September 2021.
We received a big donation of blankets from British Airways, and we had volunteers making blankets. We donated these to ShowerBox and homeless shelters, including Olympic House. We also donated towels and clothes, shoes/boots, rucksacks, sleeping bags and tents.
By August 2021 we had donated over 51, 039 items worth an estimated value of over £578,970.
Serving Our Superheroes also arranged haircuts and a dentist to visit Shower Box and we worked with Dr Anika Food Charity to offer COVID-19 vaccines when these were available. We continue to receive excess stock from British airways, supplying the hospitals with whatever we can from a mix of donors for instance we have supplied slippers to Hillingdon hospital (which were donated by British Airways), along with dementia aids made by the WI as well as washbags (toiletry packs) and sanitary items.
Serving Our Superheroes provided treat packs to NHS staff and snack packs to the homeless and to NHS workers. Between Jan – April 2021 we provided 2,263 treat packs to NHS doctors and nurses and to other local key workers.
We also provided hampers and skin care items to local hospices; this is something that we continue to do. We also provided toys to schools, nurseries, and hospices, including games consoles.
We designed and made some belts to protect the Hickman lines for babies having chemotherapy.
We gave over 300 blankets for the homeless, over 200 towels, we have also given scrubs hats and ear guards to hospitals. We have also collected pans, and cutlery, which we have given to various homeless shelters.
We have also distributed clothing to homeless shelters and have given many new branded items.
Just 8 months into running, we had become well known in the area and were busy all the time, often getting calls for help and people asking for specific items. In December 2020, we donated washbags to be handed out to the lorry drivers stranded in Kent.
We help those in crisis, including supporting the Afghani Refugees in August 2021. We were able to respond quickly to a request from a local hospital and bring in washbags and clothes we later purchased 2 pallets of new shoes, we provided more clothes, blankets and wash kits and we were featured on the news - Thursday 2nd September 2021 on London ITV news.
We also provided baby kits for families that had arrived with nothing for their babies. We made custom kits with everything that they needed - these included a washing up bowl that could be used to clean the bottles and wash the baby clothes and doubled as a baby bath (most of the refugees were put in hotels that only had showers and not baths). Cold water sterilisers, so that the bottles could be sterilised, nappies, blankets, hat, botties, bottle, dummy, vest and clothes for the baby.
Unfortunately, as well as families arriving with new born babies there were many ladies coming from Afghanistan who had complex pregnancies, many resulting in miscarriage and a high proportion of these were at our local hospital. We were asked by the hospital to put miscarriage care packs together, which we did. These included tissues, underwear, sanitary towels, an overnight wash kit with toothbrush, bath salts, deodorant, moisturiser, hand sanitizer, in draw string bags that the hospital could add after care leaflets into.
Not only are we based near the hospital that was dealing with ladies with complex pregnancies, but we are also based near to hotels where refugees were being housed. We have also provided family packs for refugees, as well as the baby packs. The family packs have toiletries, books, toys and games. This was a very emotional time for us and we were hearing first hand lots of sad stories, on a daily basis.
Then after the war in Ukraine broke out, we started sending items to Poland and Ukraine.
We have also worked with Care for Calais supporting refugees.
Another big project that we have been working on is the Pants for Patients Project. In April 2022 I launched the Pants for Patients project, after a meeting with the Hillingdon Hospital Charity Trust, where Luke explained that they needed hospital trousers for the elderly wards. The ‘Pants for Patients’ project was born and our volunteers have been making hospital trousers for patients in hospitals ever since. We have a Facebook group and have been encouraging people in other areas to make trousers and donate them to their local hospitals.
Many patients arrive in hospital with damaged or unsuitable clothing, the basic hospital gowns are open and so it’s hard to move around. So that patients aren't stuck in bed, unisex, drawstring trousers can be made and donated to hospitals. Loose adjustable trousers are great for all sizes and are easy to get on and off. These are great for anyone who has been in an accident and had their clothes damages, for elderly patients and for maternity patients - the loose clothing is perfect to wear around the hospital.
So far, we have provided over 1,674 trousers for hospital patients. Across more than 8 hospitals / hospices. We have also gone international with the trousers.
To date (28.12.2023), Serving Our Superheroes has provided 174, 661 items worth well in excess of a retail value of £3.5 million pounds. In addition to this we have supported other groups who have gone onto make and donate many more items.
In April, it will be 4 years since we started the ‘short term project’, which grew into a charity. Although the pandemic is over there is still a need and we continue to provide items. Hospitals still need hygiene packs, because people may come into the hospital who live alone, or come in, in an emergency without any items. Unfortunately, homelessness is on the rise and period poverty still continues to be an issue and with the cost of living on the rise, the people in the community accessing food banks etc need us more than ever.
Our main focus is to provide items for the NHS and the homeless - toiletry packs and trousers for hospital patients ‘Pants for Patient’s’, we also provide period products. Hand knitted items – baby blankets, hats and cardigans, we also continue to provide dementia aids/fiddle muffs and hampers / skin care products.
We have a big network and can on occasion take towels and bedding (for homeless shelters and towels for shower). We can also take good quality clothes that we can distribute amongst various charities such as homeless shelters and baby banks etc and we can take toys to pass on.
I have met and worked with so many great people along the way and seen the best in humanity. Despite the hard work it is very rewarding, and it is great to be part of something special and be able to help so many people. Sometimes we have excess items or struggle to get certain items and during the course of running the charity I have met so many great people, doing similar things. Because of this back in February 2021 I set up the helping West London group. The group has a membership of 34 people, made up of other charities and community leaders and other volunteers. This group alone has been responsible for donating thousands of items all over West London. Through the various contacts that I have I can usually get items that are needed or distribute items that there is an excess of.. Therefore, if you have items that you need, or items that you wish to donate, please get in contact with me.
This little project that I started (and is now an award-winning charity) has introduced me to so many people and has snowballed into so many other projects and charities. Since meeting Suzy at the London Community Kitchen, and from my volunteering at the Hounslow Community Food Box, I was inspired to set up another charity to help with the cost of living. I set up the charity CHEF. The Community Health Education Project. The idea is to teach people how to cook, how to eat healthily and how to budget. I also met EJ and assisted with the set up of project 90/10, of which I am the Vice-chair. Along with setting up Serving Our Superheroes and CHEF, I also set up the mental health charity Well-being for All. During 2021/2022 I was also the president of my local Rotary club.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped us so far and request that you continue to help the charity, where you can.
I hope that I have inspired some people along the way to do some volunteering, or even set up their own charities.
If you would like to get involved, please do get in contact with us.
We have big plans for 2024, we are going to look for more partnerships and try to find ways to be even more environmentally friendly. Currently we distribute a lot of discontinued stock, which may otherwise end up in landfill. Our volunteers also make bags from re-cycled materials, but we are always trying to do more and source more products in an even more sustainable way.
Sending best wishes,
Founder and Chair of Serving Our Superheroes