Via Sophie Halle-Richards, Manchester Evening News
Mariana is a single parent and has just £70 a month spare to look after herself and her teenage son.
The 54-year-old from Crumpsall has been unable to find work for over a year, and relies on Universal Credit to pay her bills.
For nine months, she has been a member of the Mustard Tree food club – which provides discounted food and other vital services to those in poverty or facing homelessness.
And for just £2.50, Mariana can buy essential food supplies worth around £12, to cook for her and her son.
Since the start of the lockdown, the Mustard Tree Charity has been helping 1,000 people like Mariana every week.
Before coronavirus, volunteers would see 500 people in a month. Now, they must also support those who have been forced to isolate, or have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
Spending £8,500 on food each week, Mustard Tree had been facing one of their biggest challenges in its 25-year history.
With help from the Manchester United Foundation, Mustard Tree and other foodbanks across the city have been able to continue support for those most in need.
The club’s foundation has now spent £1m of its reserves to support charities during the coronavirus pandemic, with £100,000 going to Greater Manchester foodbanks.
Former United great, Denis Irwin, has been a member of the foundation since its launch around 10 years ago. The left-back legend helped win a host of domestic and European trophies during his twelve-year stint at the club.
“Footballers are very much in the spotlight and a lot of them are role models so it’s important that they get involved,” he said, speaking to the M.E.N.
“We have seen some great stuff from footballers in general in the last couple of months. Sometimes we do get a bad wrap but the huge majority do a lot of stuff for charity that isn’t noticed.”
“Our own Marcus Rashford has been very much involved in doing a lot of good things for the community,” Irwin added.
“In the last two and a half months of this crisis, Manchester United have reacted very well. It is great to see in these difficult times the club has committed a lot of money to schools and food banks.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the Mustard Tree Charity has received hundreds of referrals from local authorities, says CEO Jo Walby.
The increase in demand has meant that Jo and her volunteers have gone from supporting 500 families a month, to 1,000 a week.
“What we are now seeing is people that have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and are waiting for benefits,” Jo said.
“Manchester United have been amazing because they intervened really quickly to cover our expenses. This has meant we have been able to provide food for thousands of families.
“It’s meant we have been able to keep the charity going.
“And it’s not just the funding, it’s their confidence in what we are doing which has given us a boost when we were all feeling pretty scared.
Jo says the kind-hearted spirit of Greater Manchester people has also been a vital source of support for the charity during the coronavirus crisis.
“People have been sending us cheques or setting up direct debits, and local businesses have been really good with us,” she added.
“It is local people that have really motivated us and Manchester United have really given us motivation to continue.”
John Shiels is Chief Executive of the Manchester United Foundation Trust, and has been working in some of Greater Manchester’s most challenging areas for years.
“When crisis’ like these come about people get highlighted for the work they do but we are very much a constant in the community,” he said.
“We are pillars of the community. That bit of grass at Old Trafford is the most constant piece of real estate in the city.
“We kept that lifeline going for some of our most vulnerable citizens in the city, and we are just thankful that we can help.
“This is only the start. Every single one of us can do a little bit and if we all do a little bit, we might be able to get through this.”