Every year, I hang up the same advent calendar that my best friend Jamie made me in high school more than 20 years ago.
It’s moved with me many times over the years; from where I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada to a couple of apartments during university.
Eventually, it made its way all the way to England where it hung in several flats around Brighton. Now, my daughter finds chocolate coins in the pockets each day in December at our home in West Sussex.
But not everyone looks forward to Christmas.
The truth is that some families who are struggling with money due to a job loss, bereavement or low income will dread the holiday season due the expense. As a result, many kids will wake up on Christmas morning without any presents at all, while others will go hungry.
Food bank use has more than doubled in the last six years, according to The Trussell Trust, with more than 1.9 million people in the UK applying for emergency food aid through the organisation’s network of food banks in the year up to March 31 2020.
That’s compared to 913,000 in the year before the end of March 2013 – and does not include the months during the pandemic.
Food bank charity the Trussell Trust predicts a 61% rise in their use this winter because of the economic impact of Covid-19.
So, when I heard a few years back that the UK Money Bloggers group had decided that their annual “giving back” campaign would be a reverse advent calendar – I knew I wanted to get involved.
This is our fourth year doing a Reverse Advent Calendar in our house, and it already feels like an annual family tradition.
If you want to get involved, it’s easy – even in these uncertain times.
Donations don’t have to be huge – can just mean buying a few extra items in your food shop or clearing out your cupboards for products that you are unlikely to use.
Here’s how to get started.
WHAT IS A REVERSE ADVENT CALENDAR?
The concept is simple: rather than the usual advent calendar where you open a window a day to see a picture, get a chocolate or some other goodie, you add a non-perishable food item or hygiene product to a box which you will then donate to your local food bank.
BUT WHY NOVEMBER?
In my house, we started on November 1st to ensure that the donation will be delivered to our local food bank before the holidays.
This means there will be enough time for food banks to organise the contents and get it out to people who need it most – all of whom have been referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or schools liaison officer.
Many food banks are only open for a couple of days a week, so our plan is to deliver our donations at the beginning of December.
The Trussell Trust has over 1,200 food banks across the UK but if you don’t know where your local one is located, you can find one here.
WHAT TO DONATE
The Trussell Trust has worked with nutritionists to develop a food parcel that contains sufficient nutrition for adults and children, for at least three days of healthy, balanced meals for individuals and families.
A typical food parcel includes:
- Tinned tomatoes/ pasta sauce
- Lentils, beans and pulses
- Tinned meat
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned fruit
- UHT milk
- Fruit juice
- Essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products.
If you’re organising a collection for your local food bank, please check with them first to see which items they are currently in need of, as it may surprise you: at my nearest branch they are well stocked in tinned soup, baked beans, pasta and cereal – but they urgently need fruit juice and sponge puddings.
But saying that, don’t let that put you off donating the items which may be overstocked if you have them spare, in my opinion, something is always better than nothing: branches often transfer food to other locations if they experience shortages.
This means that your donations go to help people wherever they are in the UK.
DON’T FORGET HYGIENE PRODUCTS
Nearly a third of females in the UK have at some point been unable to afford sanitary wear and have had to miss school or work, according to the campaign group, Bloody Good Period.
This is an increase from the original stats by Plan International UK which estimated one in 10 females were experiencing period poverty.
To address this, the Government has pledged that sanitary products will be freely available in primary and secondary schools from this year.
Sadly, the majority of schools in England have failed to sign up to the government scheme to provide free sanitary products, despite teachers warning period poverty has soared in the wake of coronavirus chaos.
I know that this seems hard to believe, given that the UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but sanitary products don’t come cheap.
This isn’t helped by the 5% VAT charge on them for being considered a “luxury item” – at least until December 31st when this sales tax will finally be abolished on sanitary items – while chocolate biscuits and take-away pizzas are tax free – go figure.
Figures from Bloody Good Period show that a box of 20 sanitary towels or tampons costs an average of £2.37, and when you consider that women might need at least a couple of packets a month: that’s a total monthly cost of £5 to £10.
And that is just the cost for one women: in a household with more than one female, the costs can quickly escalate.
While it might not seem like a great deal of money, it is sadly the case that a growing number of people – particularly younger people – are struggling to afford the basics.
A recent investigation by RightsInfo revealed up to 6,000 women were collecting sanitary products monthly from food banks and homeless shelters.
With this in mind, we will be picking up a few boxes each time we go shopping and will add it to the box.
You can help people in crisis to maintain dignity and feel human again by donating other essential non-food items such as these:
- Toiletries – deodorant, toilet paper, shower gel, shaving gel, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, tooth paste, hand wipes
- Household items – laundry liquid detergent, laundry powder, washing up liquid
- Feminine products – sanitary towels and tampons (in sealed packaging/boxes as any loose products can not be accepted)
- Baby supplies – nappies, baby wipes and baby food.
Did you know that most tampons have expiry dates? I sure didn’t!
But checking the expiry date is important for ensuring that the tampons are well within date and not harbouring potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to irritation or infection.
This means loose products are a no no.
According to Bloody Good Period, they have had donations of tampons which are well over twenty years old! Would you put something that old in your vagina? (Well, yes, you might actually… but not tampons, okay?)
GET THE KIDS INVOLVED
Audrey has always been involved in our reverse advent calendar as I feel that it’s crucial to teach her about the importance of helping our local community.
Over half term we paint a box and make a calendar so we can check off each day that we have added an item.
In previous years, Audrey has made little Christmas goodwill cards for the benefactors and she even donated some of her small toys and books. She has also suggested that she uses the contents of her “Sharing Jar” to buy some items to pop into the box.
CAN I COUNT YOU IN?
Fancy joining me? All you need to get started is an empty box and a desire you help those in need.
Anything you can give will be appreciated, and it doesn’t matter if you can only do it for part of the month or if your donation is 25 of the same thing.
If you get involved, please post your photos on social media and use the hashtag #FoodbankAdvent.
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