KIND-HEARTED Maureen Powell has cooked up something special in Colchester.

And thanks to some all-important ingredients - generous helpings of kindness, dedication and community spirit, seasoned with donations and funding - needy families and individuals are enjoying the sweet taste of her success.

Maureen, 68, started her Munch Clubs in the town during the autumn half-term of 2018.

They run during school holidays to provide hot food for children who rely on free school meals as their main meal of the day.

When the coronavirus pandemic then struck, Maureen stepped up to the plate - literally - rallying a team of volunteers to send out “thousands and thousands” of food parcels to people across the borough.

It has become a huge operation but one which brings respite to so many.

“There’s a lot of hardship out there and people appreciate our help, especially those on low incomes,” said the former hairdresser.

“In some cases, it’s the difference between eating and not eating.

“I started my Munch Clubs during the autumn half-term of 2018.

“The first was in Monkwick but now we run other clubs in Old Heath and Greenstead.

“I knew there were children and families out there who needed help.

“To start with, I funded it myself out of my pension.

“Now I rely on donations and people and organisations have been very generous.

“I love doing it. I love children and can’t bear the thought of families going without.

“As well as giving them food, we also have lots of fun with arts and crafts, games and activities.

“The children also get Christmas presents and Easter eggs.”

When the pandemic struck, the Munch Club was forced to temporarily close.

Proper hot meals were suddenly off the menu but Maureen and Co rose to the challenge, producing food parcels to be distributed across Colchester.

She fills them with everything from milk, potatoes, cheese, eggs and ham to baked beans, spaghetti, pasta, cakes, biscuits, jelly and tinned tomatoes.

“It’s a huge operation and I couldn’t do it without a lot of help and support,” said Maureen, who has a son, daughter and five grandchildren.

“Between us, we’ve sent out thousands and thousands of parcels.

“We spent a whole day packing them up and I want people to know I’m there to help, especially families with children under the age of 18.

“In the first week of lockdown alone, we put together 230 parcels.

“That number dropped to about 45, as people were able to get out and about again, and now it’s about 30 to 40.

“That figure could go up again, though, and if there’s a second lockdown, we’ll start putting emergency packages together straight away.”

Maureen, who lives in Hilltop Close, Old Heath, Colchester, works closely with friend Pepe Sanchez, who runs the New Town Munch Club at the GO4 community cafe, at Old Heath Recreation Ground.

Pepe has also sourced food and provided parcels.

However, Maureen has had plenty to contend with in her personal life, leading to a steely determination which is reflected in her voluntary efforts.

In addition to surviving a brain tumour, she has health issues including multiple sclerosis.

She has also fallen on hard times herself, which is why she is so keen to help others.

“I was a businesswoman, a hairdresser, who lost everything during the recession,” she said.

“I was left penniless with one son at university and a nine-year-old daughter at home.

“I became a low-income single parent so can relate to the plight of the people I’m trying to help.

“I didn’t get any assistance and it was hard.

“I don’t want others to have the same struggles.

“That’s why I made it my vocation to do whatever I could to help children and families in need.

“It’s wonderful and, for me, it’s become a way of life.

“It keeps me going and keeps me active.

“It stops me feeling sorry for myself and I’ve been lucky enough to make some amazing friends.”

As a thank you for her tireless efforts, Maureen and some of her volunteers were recently treated to a slap-up meal at Miller & Carter, in Stanway.

The much-deserved treat was organised by Colchester’s Anti-Loo Roll Brigade, the group set up to help people during the covid-19 outbreak.

“It was an amazing night,” said Maureen.

“It’s not often you get spoilt rotten so this was an incredible gesture and one we appreciated so much.”