No-one should go hungry, and especially not at Christmas.
Yet shockingly thousands of people right here in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, can’t afford to feed their families. During 2016/17, the biggest network of food banks, the Trussell Trust, gave out nearly 1.2 million three-day emergency food supplies. That’s an awful lot of people in desperate situations.
One of the major reasons I started this blog back in 2013 was because I was so horrifed by food poverty, and rocketing demand for food banks (here’s my first ever post). Yet when I wrote about food banks two years later, usage had more than tripled.
Bear in mind that people can’t just show up at a food bank – you have to be referred by someone else, like a doctor, health visitor, social worker or someone from the council, police, health centres, children’s centres or Citizens Advice.
Sadly, December is the busiest month for food banks. The highest number of referrals takes place in the last two weeks before Christmas. This year, if the roll out of Universal Credit continues, I suspect it will be even worse. Benefit delays and changes already account for 43% of referrals to Trussell Trust food banks. Yet in areas where Universal Credit has already been introduced, food banks referrals have gone up by 17%. (More here)
This year, I’ve jumped at the chance to take part in the #FoodbankAdvent campaign with other UK Money Bloggers.
Every year, my children enjoying opening the little doors on their advent calendars, especially with the lure of chocolate behind them. However, I’m keen that we should all think about the importance of giving, not just receiving.
#FoodbankAdvent is a reverse advent calendar, where each day for 25 days, we’ll be putting an item in a box to give to our local food bank. In our case, it’s FIND in Ipswich. As food banks need supplies well before Christmas, we’ll actually start our reverse advent calendar this week at the beginning of November. This means we can hand everything over early in December. We’re incredibly lucky to have food, home and family around us. Perhaps in some tiny way we can help make Christmas better elsewhere.
Does anyone else fancy getting involved?
I really believe many of us are only a relationship breakdown, an illness or a job loss away from tipping into financial troubles. Recent research by the Financial Conduct Authority found that half of UK adults are potentially financially vulnerable. Around 4.1 million people were already in financial difficulty, after missing payments for household bills or credit cards three times or more in the last six months.
Hopefully, by adding a few extras here and there, and taking advantage of offers, vouchers and freebies, #FoodbankAdvent needn’t be too expensive.
Even if you don’t fancy doing a reverse advent calendar, adding a couple of items to the food bank collection box at your local supermarket will still make a difference.
Food bank shopping list
If you’d like to donate, food banks suggest lists of the kind of things they need.
FIND’s list (here) is:
- Long life milk
- Long life fruit juice
- Soup and cuppa soup
- Pasta sauces
- Custard (tinned or long life)
- Rice pudding (tinned)
- Instant coffee
- Tinned meat or fish
- Tinned veg or soup
- Tinned fruit
- Biscuits (sweet or cream crackers)
- Toilet rolls
- Laundry products
- Nappies / baby wipes
What I’ve donated before
When I first donated to a food bank back in 2013, I dutifully bought all the items on the food bank’s shopping list. I opted for value range versions, so I could get more for the same money, and loaded the bags underneath my youngest’s pushchair to deliver it.
Yet more recently, I’ve bought very different items.
Doing Live Below the Line (the charity challenge when you feed yourself on £1 a day for five days) a few times and reading around it made me think differently. When you’re tired and hungry, sometimes you just want food fast, rather than cooking food from scratch, so I swapped tinned tomatoes for tins of soup. A tiny budget doesn’t stretch to alternative options if children don’t like the food in front of them, so I switched to familiar brands instead of value ranges. Dry pasta is a fat lot of use without a saucepan, a cooker or much money on the meter, so I bought packets of macaroni cheese that only needed boiling water. Tinned fruit can be a real help when fresh versions cost so much more. I also realised what a difference tiny treats like biscuits and jam can make when you’re living on limited food and stressed about where the next meal will come from.
Items for #FoodbankAdvent
So for #FoodbankAdvent, here’s what I’m thinking of giving:
- Food needs to keep well – so tinned veg rather than fresh, or long life milk rather than dairy products that will go off.
- I may be happy to eat food beyond its ‘best before’ date, but I’ll make sure anything donated to a food bank has a long shelf life.
- The Trussell Trust suggests that if you’re organising a collection, call your local food bank to find out what they actually need. Helps avoid giving say pasta and baked beans, if they already have a glut. Find your local Trussell Trust foodbank here.
- Bear in mind that not everyone using a foodbank has access to cooking facilities or equipment, or spare money for energy bills. Sure, lentils are a great source of protein – but not if you only have a kettle, and not if your children won’t eat them at all. That’s why pre-prepared food (eg cuppa soup, tinned soup, pasta sauces) or food that doesn’t need cooking (eg biscuits, tinned meat, cereal) are so helpful.
- Non-food items are also much needed, as the cost all adds up:
- Toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and loo rolls
- Washing powder and washing liquid
- Items for babies like nappies and wipes
- Ever seen “I, Daniel Blake?” Think about female hygiene products like tampons and sanitary towels too.
- Sometimes, food can really lift the spirits. I’ll be looking out for some suitably festive biscuits and chocolate, for example.
I spoke with Maureen Reynel at FIND, our nearest food bank, who is just in the process of putting together 1,000 Christmas parcels on top of the 5,000 FIND will distribute by the end of the year.
I checked which items might be particularly needed, and Maureen said: “We have lots of soup, dried pasta and baked beans, but otherwise we are many thousands of units short.
“We have a lot of women’s toiletries and sanitary protection, but few men’s toiletries. We also always need larger nappies – from size 5 upwards.”
Maureen said each Christmas parcel would include a large box of biscuits, sweets or chocolates, but Advent calendars were not ideal: “If Advent calendars come in after parcels are put together for the beginning of December, it rather misses the point.
“Anyway opening a door each day leading up to Christmas is difficult. It brings hope about presents. But for many children receiving food parcels, there is no pot of gold at the end of the calendar.”
Now over to you. Anyone else up for #FoodbankAdvent with a reverse advent calendar? Any tips on what to donate to a foodbank, or how to contribute on a budget? I’d love to hear, so do comment below.