The British tennis player Katie Swan is at the centre of a heart-warming effort to help poor people in Wichita, Kansas, as they battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Swan’s mother Nicki is coordinating food packages for 70 families from the garage of their home, and Katie told reporters that it's “amazing to see the impact she has had on the community”.
This initiative was conceived by Nicki, a human-relations consultant from the Southampton area. Since 2013, the family has been based in Kansas because of father Richard’s work in the fossil-fuel industry. That is where Swan learned many of the skills that first made her a junior grand-slam finalist, and now a regular member of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team.
As Katie honed her groundstrokes, hitting with the students at the local university, Nicki was integrating herself into the local community through a charity for disadvantaged children called Big Brother, Big Sister.
The families she met then are the same ones the Swans are helping now, via the unofficial convenience store in their garage.
“When all of this started with the coronavirus,” Katie explained, “she wanted to be able to support those families with their groceries, which they couldn’t get. Either because they were too scared to go out. Or because, having too many kids, they cannot leave them at the house.
“My parents have been going to Costco every morning, filling up the trolleys, buying everything in bulk for other people. And then, through Facebook, my mum posted about it. We asked for help or donations, and within a day or two she has raised more than $4,000 (£3,250). I have been helping her organise the care packages and get them ready for delivery.
“We have all the groceries set up in piles, then kids from my brother’s school come over and pick up their piles and deliver to the address my mum gives them.
“Some of these families have loads of kids. We have supported a family of 15 who all live in one house. But it’s a mixture of ages. There’s a 98-year-old man who cannot go to the grocery store himself. He loves my mum’s homemade banoffee pie. It’s apparently the only thing he will eat. So, he just eats that. We are trying to bring the British classic to the States!
“The other day she had a phone call from one lady, a single mum with her son. She is not very well. And she was crying down the phone to my mum. She is very religious and said she had prayed to my mum to say ‘Thank you so much’. She blessed us. It was emotional to hear it. I could hear her voice and she was so grateful. These people cannot support their families.”
Nicki Swan is clearly one of those people who finds ways to help, wherever she is in the world. When the family lived in Bristol – where Katie used to be head girl, and captain of hockey, at the Downs Preparatory School – Nicki became a trustee of Willow, the charity that former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson founded after the tragic loss of his daughter to cancer.
“She is a very good people person,” said Katie. “Over the last few years she started volunteering at the humane society. In the last year we had 17 different dogs in our house, which she has fostered, that were going to be put down or they didn’t have a good home. She fosters them until they are ready to go up for adoption.”
One benefit of being in Wichita is that Katie – who is managed by the 77 agency set up by her mentor Andy Murray – can keep playing tennis. This wouldn’t have been possible in the UK, because the National Tennis Centre in London is now closed, even for elite players like Johanna Konta.
Meanwhile, all recreational clubs have been advised – on the basis of the government’s Stay at Home campaign – to shut their courts.
“I am very lucky I can still play tennis,” added Swan, who contested her most recent match in Mexico on March 9, and whose best win to date came against Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu – then the world No 36 – at Wimbledon two years ago.
“I train at the local country club. Actually there are two: one of them closed and the other stayed open. The one that closed, they were really nice and let me and my brother go in and take some things from the gym, so we could make our own mini-gym at the house. We have been using that. I am pretty much still training a couple of hours a day at the moment, and going to the other club to play every day.
“They are not as strict here at the moment as in the UK. But I am sure it is going to come. Over in Kansas City, a few hours from where we live, they have gone into lockdown. In Wichita, the restaurants have closed but you are allowed to get takeout. For me, I am going to play tennis, come home, do my gym work, stay around the house. That is what they are advising everyone – don’t go out unless it’s necessary.
“To be honest, I have really been enjoying being at home. I had my 21st birthday on Tuesday, and I am trying to take all the positives out of this. I wouldn’t have got this time to spend with my family if the tour was running as normal. So, I know it is a shame I cannot be playing tournaments. But the silver lining is that I get to be here.”