Foodie Friday: How To Make A Reverse Advent Calendar for Your Local Food Bank #FoodBankAdvent

Friday, 10 November 2017

How To Make A Reverse Advent Calendar for Your Local Food Bank #foodbankadvent
The countdown to Christmas is well underway and like many, I'm looking forward to spending the festive season with my closest friends and family. I know that there will be presents, drinks and plenty of food for us to enjoy, so I'm joining in with #FoodBankAdvent to create a 'Reverse Advent Calendar' for my local food bank to help those who will have nothing to eat this Christmas.

My Background & Why I'm Joining In 
Five years ago, I started volunteering at my local Citizen's Advice Bureau (fondly known as 'CAB' and now renamed as simply Citizen's Advice) to get some work experience in Social Policy. I wasn't sure if this was an area that I wanted to study at degree level and a friend suggested that Citizen's Advice would be a good place to start, and she was right. They gave me a huge amount of free training and I gained a lot of knowledge across the whole board in a short space of time (and many friends as well!). Back then, Welfare Reform was still a relatively new concept and food banks were mostly unheard of.

This all rapidly changed in the years that followed. Very quickly, I began to see people come into Citizen's Advice with a brand new set of problems, stemming mostly from Welfare Reform and changes to how benefits were being assessed and paid. ESA (Employment & Support Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment) were the biggest issues, with a seemingly endless cycle of reassessments and appeals which left many very vulnerable, sick and disabled people without any money or support for months at a time. I started to document multiple cases of the gig economy and zero-hour contracts; I'd have to interview people who were at their wits end trying to juggle four or five different poorly paid jobs to make ends meets, and chase up employers who were illegally not paying them the National Minimum Wage.

I volunteered in both the Housing and Debt departments where I witnessed families being evicted, despite both parents being 'employed full-time' on zero hour contracts because some weeks they had work and other weeks they didn't have any. I wrote reports on single parents who were sanctioned for months at a time (left without any benefits or support) by the Job Centre for not looking for full-time work because they had to do the school run twice a day.

It's not just about people on benefits though. Citizen's Advice is one of the first local places that someone goes to when they have a big change in their lives and they can't cope or need advice on how to deal with what's happened. I've spoken to many people over the years and the main factors are always relationship breakdown/divorce, alcohol/drug abuse, domestic violence, disability or illness, unemployment or insecure employment, a new baby and bereavements. When you go through one of these, your whole life can be turned upside down and anyone can start to have money problems as a result which can lead to not being able to afford basics such as food and rent.

Things have sadly only gotten worse and now, millions of households in the UK rely on food banks for emergency food parcels. If food banks didn't exist, I strongly believe that the Government would allow these people to starve and we've already seen several cases of preventable deaths which have occurred because of Welfare Reform and the rollout of Universal Credit, where claimants are expected to wait six weeks before they receive their first payment. Six weeks! Imagine having no money for food, rent, heating etc for six weeks! Only recently, it was reported in the news that a man died in hunger whilst waiting for his first Universal Credit payment (here), and a mother of four died in her freezing flat after she missed an appointment due to being in hospital which led to her benefits being stopped (here).

These are just some of the reasons why I'm joining in with UK Money Bloggers to create a reverse advent calendar for my local food bank. I donate to my local one once a month, but for those who haven't donated before, Christmas is the perfect time to start! Referrals to food banks go through the roof during this time of the year, as many people have to choose between heating their home or feeding themselves and their families, so supplies are needed to meet this increased demand. It's also the season of sharing and giving, and a great way to teach children about these important values.

What's A Reverse Advent Calendar & Where Do I Drop It Off? 
With an advent calendar, you open up a door and get a chocolate or a gift, so with a reverse advent calendar, you PUT something into it, instead of taking something out. Easy! The idea behind the Food Bank Advent is that you get a large box and put an item into it every day during November, and then drop it off at your local food bank or supermarket collection point so that it can be sorted and distributed to those who need them, ready for Christmas. Find your nearest Trussell Trust food bank here

What Can I Put Into It?
The biggest organisation that runs most of the food banks in the UK is called The Trussell Trust, but there may be a different charity or organisation in your local area, so do a quick google search to see what comes up. To give some examples, in my area The Trussell Trust has a list of products that they need which includes:-
  • Long Life Fruit Juice
  • Pasta Sauces
  • Tinned Fish & Meat
  • UHT Milk
  • Instant Coffee
  • Instant Mashed Potato
  • Cereals
  • Condiments
  • Herbs & Spices
  • Tinned Soup
  • Tinned Vegetables like Tomatoes, Peas, Beans
  • Tinned Fruit
  • Tinned Pudding
  • Biscuits / Chocolates
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Savoury & Sweet Treats
  • Feminine Hygiene (sanitary pads/tampons etc)
  • Personal Hygiene (toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, mouthwash, disposable razors etc)
  • Toiletries (deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel etc)
  • Baby Products (non-formula baby food, nappies, wipes etc)
  • Pet Foods

What I've Added So Far & Tips If You're On A Budget
Currently in my Food Bank Advent box, I've included a pack of disposable razors (£1), a bottle of shampoo (£1), a can of deodorant (99p), a pack of sanitary pads (66p), a tin of soup (59p), a tin of spaghetti hoops (49p), a bag of pasta (45p), two tins of fruit salad (39p each) and a tube of Smarties (free with a cashback app).

If you'd like to join in, but you're on a budget, here are a couple of tips:-
  • Own-brand supermarket products are very cheap, especially for basics like pasta, beans, and toiletries/sanitary items.
  • Big discounters like Aldi, Lidl and Poundland are also super cheap places to pick up products.
  • Cashback shopping apps often give you random weekly freebies so grab them and pop them into the box - it's not going to cost you anything!
  • Check your own cupboards at home - food banks will take anything that's in date so if you have a tin of soup that you're not going to get around to eating before it goes off, or an unopened jar of pasta sauce that you picked up on a BOGOF offer and didn't like, donate them.
  • Christmas is an expensive time so if you can't spare anything now, why not give something in the New Year? Your donations will be just as welcome at any time of year.

Overall Thoughts
I really shouldn't be writing this post, no one should have to donate anything, and food banks shouldn't even exist. The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world - why the hell do we have this problem?! I completely blame the Government and their hideously callous social policies which allow the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society to go hungry and suffer. I have no doubt that a change of Government will happen soon, but until then, food banks are required to provide the bare essentials to those who have absolutely nothing. Let's show others the compassion and humanity that's so badly needed right now - we are better than this Government, let's help.

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius
"In a country well governed then poverty is something to be ashamed of, in a county badly governed then wealth is something to be ashamed of", Confucius.
"In a country well governed then poverty is something to be ashamed of, in a county badly governed then wealth is something to be ashamed of", Confucius.

For more information about The Trussell Trust & their campaign to stop UK hunger, visit trusselltrust.org

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