SO far, Kim Clark has delivered around 11,000 free meals to elderly people in her community. But one delivery above all others highlighted why the kindness being shown by people like her is so important.

Ever since the lockdown brought her events catering business to a standstill, in the County Durham village of Evenwood, Kim has dedicated herself to making sure vulnerable, isolated folk don’t go hungry.

The feedback has been overwhelming, but it was a visit to an old man, living on his own, that reduced her to floods of tears, and made her more determined than ever to look after those in need.

“People down the street had asked if I would deliver to his house, so I knocked on the door, and he was a little bit unfriendly to start with, not wanting any help,” she recalls.

Kim told him there was no charge and, sensing something wasn’t right, asked if he was sure he didn’t need anything. She could see into his kitchen and, next to his kettle, was a large pile of used tea bags.

She listed what she’d be able to give him, including: washing up liquid, some Granny Smith apples, bread, and milk. But it was when she got to tea bags that his faced changed.

“We’ve just had 100 boxes donated,” she explained. “Only Tetley’s at the moment but I can bring you some if you like?”

The old man’s eyes welled up: “Well, I’m on my third week with those,” he replied, opening the door a bit more, and pointing to his tower of flattened tea bags.

“Bless him – he’d been squeezing out the tea bags, and re-using them for three weeks, but was too proud to ask for help,” says Kim. “It just summed it all up for me, and I cried all the way home.”

She was soon back to deliver a selection of food and other household items, with three boxes of tea bags given pride of place on the top, alongside a packet of sugar and some long-life milk.

That poignant exchange, on a back doorstep in a South Durham village, exposes the harsh reality of life for many vulnerable people during the lockdown. And it underlines why people like Kim, who have devoted themselves to helping others, are heroes.

Before coronavirus, Kim ran Kim’s Kitchen, turning her love of cooking into a successful home-based business, catering for events such as weddings, christenings, birthdays and funerals.

“When the lockdown came, everything just stopped,” she says. “I couldn’t bear to look at all the cancellations coming in. I was devastated – shell-shocked.”

Kim’s answer was to have a big gin, take a deep breath, and tell herself there was no point getting upset. “I’m one of those people who has to be doing something, so I decided to use my skills and resources to put something back into the community,” she says.

Luckily, her husband, Chris, has a secure job in manufacturing food packaging at the Smurfit Kappa factory, and, with demand soaring, he was able to work overtime.

Meanwhile, Kim started off small: making dinners for the elderly living closest to her; baking an extra batch of scones, or another half a dozen dumplings.

She was encouraged enough to post a shout-out on Facebook for donations of food, and left a basket at her front door for people to leave whatever they could spare. When she opened the door the following morning, she could hardly believe her eyes.

“There was just a sea of food – I could hardly move,” she says.

Three months on, with the help of her sister Claire Burt, and friends Sarah Linsley-Patton and Olivia Seagrave, it quickly became a seven-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day operation.

“There’s no set menu, we just use whatever comes in – mince, pork, stewing steak, sausages, spuds – you name it, we use it,” she explains.

Kim has even experimented with new types of food for the locals. “One day, I was making loads of casseroles, and I just thought I’m going to introduce wraps. They’ve gone down a storm – we’ve got a 90-year-old lady who’s never had a wrap in her life, and now she loves them.”

Monetary donations have also come in, including a £300 cheque from Glaxo, and other contributions from Teesdale Lions and the GMB union. Smurfit Kappa chipped in by providing custom-made boxes for the deliveries.

As well as the food boxes, ‘treat trays’ – comprising cupcakes, flapjacks, and sprinkle sponge – have also been sent to hospitals, care homes, schools, and all the way up the dale to Stanhope ambulance station.

“The community spirit has lifted everyone, and it’s not just the meal but the five minutes of chat they get because, in lots of cases, they don’t see anyone,” says Kim. “We’ll keep on going as long as we’re needed.”

And the need runs very deep. The old man, who was initially a reluctant customer, has become a regular. He’s made it clear to Kim not to bother giving him tins of ravioli because he doesn’t like it.

But he’s loving the fresh cups of tea.

  • If you can help with a donation, please call Kim on 07793974182

THE Dominic Cummings saga may have thrust Barnard Castle into the global spotlight, but it wasn’t the biggest  story of the week for the Teesdale Mercury. It preferred to lead on the go-ahead for a £1 billion upgrade of the A66 instead.

The Government’ chief adviser’s breach of lockdown rules did, however, make the front page – bang on top of an advert for a home-delivered picnic box. Hopefully, Mr Cummings has placed his order.

The Northern Echo:

I ALSO love the fact that a ‘Dominic’ is now a golfing term: A long drive, out of bounds, but with no penalty.

The Northern Echo:

STILL on sport, congratulations to Newcastle Racecourse for leading the resumption of horse racing this week.

The restart coincided with yours truly starting to write a new column for trainer Michael Dods, who is based at Denton, near Darlington. Called Barney’s Blog, it’s a light-hearted reflection on life through the eyes of retired racehorse Barney McGrew.

Yes, that’s right, after nearly 40 years in journalism, I am now writing as a horse.

Barney McGrew, named after one of the firemen in Trumpton, won nine races and his now living in happy retirement in a field at Denton Hall.

His blog appears on – news trot off the press.

The Northern Echo:

FINALLY, a horse called Lockdown ran in the 3.05pm at Newcastle yesterday. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a bit hesitant about coming out of the stalls and didn’t win.