The Salvation Army are on the pandemic frontline with hot food, friendship and support for those in need during the worst public health crisis in living memory.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston dropped in to the Army's Southfield Road Citadel to find out how their life-changing work complements that of the Council.
In addition to the Sally Army's Sunday services - currently on Facebook to comply with lockdown restrictions - there's lots of work to nurture the congregation and the wider community, both spiritually and physically.
Mayor Preston's visit coincided with a Tuesday drop-in session, with all welcome to drop by for hot soup, a cheese bun and a small bag of food to take away.
The weekly 10am to noon sessions have run throughout the pandemic, and regularly attract between 80 and 100 people including those who have lost jobs and homes, and some simply in search of company.
The Citadel's ‘Loaves and Fishes' economy shop is open to anyone on benefits, and costs £5 per year and then £2.50 per shop.
Acting as a bridge between food bank vouchers and regular shopping, the ‘eco shop' stocks a large variety of tinned and fresh foods including bread, milk and fruit and veg.
The team develop relationships with the customers, enabling them to identify any other support needs such as debt advice, or other services available through the Council.
Despite having to close during lockdowns, the citadel's charity shop has also grown considerably during the pandemic, with visitors jumping at the chance to pick up good quality items at low prices.
Projects in the pipeline include a debt advice service which is scheduled to open in September with trained and regulated volunteers and staff.
Lieutenant Naomi Kelly, of Middlesbrough Salvation Army, said the priority had been to keep the church's doors open every day of the week throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: "We have worked hard to be physically present with our doors open every week of the pandemic.
"We have found that so many people have felt ‘lost' and have simply needed someone to speak to and offer help.
"This has been anything from reading letters for those with poor literacy skills, offering the use of our phone, supporting rough sleepers in accessing Council support and food support.
"Most organisations have understandably moved to remote working but this has left those without phone or internet access struggling to access the support they need.
"By remaining open, we have been able to help the most vulnerable of people within Middlesbrough.
"Working together has also been enormously important - we're all stronger when we work together and are aware of what each other are doing.
"We work very closely with Trussell Trust and have great relationships with agencies across Middlesbrough including the Council.
"Many people have thanked us and have told us we have been a ‘lifeline' to them - all we want to do is share God's love with others and it has been our privilege to serve in this way."
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston added: "The Council does lots of great work to combat hunger and homelessness, and there's no reason for anyone to go without in Middlesbrough, least of all during a pandemic.
"We've been fully behind the Government's ‘everyone in' approach over the last year, and support and services are there for everyone who needs them.
"But we can only do that with the amazing support of organisations like the Sally Army who are on the frontline of offering a helping hand to those who find themselves in need, so often through no fault of their own.
"A friendly face and a hot meal are two of the greatest things we can give, and by developing those relationships Naomi and the team are able to identify those who need further long-term support.
"That changes lives, and I'm enormously grateful to Naomi and the whole Sally Army for the work they do."
- For the latest information on the Salvation Army's services and opening hours call 01642 241 344 or visit salvationarmy.org.uk/middlesbrough-citadel
- For the latest local updates and information, visit middlesbrough.gov.uk/covid19
For information on local help and support, visit www.middlesbrough.gov.uk/helpboro
For advice for clinically extremely vulnerable residents call Middlesbrough Council's support line on 01642 729777
The latest advice from Government and Public Health England can be found at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus