Challenge 16 – to donate a food item to your local food bank.

Your challenge this week:  to choose one or two items at the supermarket to donate to the local food bank.  Talk to your children about food banks and discuss some of the issues surrounding food poverty.  Take them to the shops to buy a few items and donate them to a food bank.

This challenge encourages the following values:
Kindness, Responsibility, Gratitude, Generosity, Altruism and Compassion

What you need to complete your challenge this week:

  • Before talking to your children, do a little research for yourself.
    • Click here to access the Tressel Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank network.  Put your postcode in to find your local Tressel Trust managed food bank, find out how they work and how you can help.
    • Alternatively, put your town and ‘food bank’ into your search engine to see if there is an independent food bank more locally, managed by a charity or your council.
  • Introduce the subject of food banks to your children.  Be mindful and make sure the details you give them, about what food banks are and why they exist, is appropriate to their age and understanding.  The intention here is to increase understanding not instil fear or doubt.
  • Check out the website of your local food bank or contact them to get a list of items that they need rather than guessing.
  • Ask your child to choose one or two items from the list and go out and buy the goods.
  • Deliver the donations directly to your food bank, if you are allowed to.  (Always check this because not all food bank collection centres allow the public to visit for safety reasons).  If you are unable to deliver directly call the food bank or check online to see where your closest, probably supermarket based, collection basket is.

If all else fails…
When you do your next shop ask at the information desk of your local supermarket if they have a food bank donation basket and pop a few items in, any tinned meat or fish or long life products tend to be welcomed.

Food for thought for the grown-ups:

I added this food bank challenge to my list of things to do with my boys naively assuming that it would be a simple challenge to write out but the more research I did the more I realised what serious issues food bank use and food poverty are in this country.  I don’t normally get so involved in a subject but I have felt the need to write a little more than I normally do in this post.  Please stay with me, it’s a thought-provoking subject and something that, in my opinion, children ought to have some knowledge of. 

Searching out the Food Bank donation bin

In July and August last year, 204,525 emergency 3-day food packs were given out to those in need, by the Tressel Trust Food Banks across the UK. 74,011 of those packs were given to children.  Consider this staggering fact for a moment.  Despite the steady increase over the last few years, the reason for the spike of nearly 4,000 extra emergency packs being given to children (from the preceding two months) is said to have been due to a lack of access to free school meals during the summer holiday. This figure does not include the number of emergency food donations given by other food bank groups overseen by IFAN (the Independent Food Aid Network) and other charitable organisations. Therefore this isn’t the full story, the number is likely to be much higher.

According to the BBC, it is calculated that the lack of access to free school meals costs parents between £30 and £40 per week. Over the course of the holiday period when the study was observed, this increase in food demand drove low-income parents to seek support from their local food banks in order to feed their children.  The summer holidays are a time when we envision spending long lazy days at the beach eating fish and chips and ice cream, however, for some, it is a desperately difficult time.  The focus groups, including Feeding Britain, investigating this burden of poverty on children in the UK,  say that the problem of food poverty is compounded by a growing number of parents who lack the ability or confidence to buy raw ingredients and to cook food from scratch.  This is not just a financial issue.  It is, without doubt, a systemic one.  According to a study in 2015 for the Food Standards Agency, food poverty is a threefold issue.  Firstly, an issue of constraints, affordability, cooking skills and social issues including social exclusion, isolation and rises in living costs without the corresponding rise in wages.  Secondly, an issue of constrained choices, buying satisfying (desired) food rather than nutritional (healthy) food. In addition to this food is often bought in bulk to try to reduce waste, ruling out the fresh produce which is so critical in a balanced diet.  Thirdly, is the issue of impacts, buying lower nutritional (but higher calorific) food to stave off hunger leading to increased risk of other health issues.

I could get political and start blaming the rollout of the universal credit system or how Government policies are likely to exacerbate an already dire situation but I won’t.  I also won’t comment on Government promises to support the most vulnerable families to improve their lives and employment opportunities, because I am so personally sceptical.  What I will say is that local authorities and charities who have done their own research and produced their own data agree that there is an increasing demand for support from food banks for children during holiday periods.  It is an appalling battle to get out of poverty for so many hard-working families and with Christmas fast approaching I, first hand, know that that strain on the purse strings is set to increase.

After that very depressing but very real introduction, I can understand why you might be questioning why I would want my children to know about food banks, what they are for, who uses them, who runs them, who donates to them and so on and so forth.  The answer to this is simply because I want my children to understand that not everybody is as fortunate as they are.  It’s easy for our children to go about their day assuming that each child in their class will go home and have a hot cooked supper.  In my house, with demands on time, extracurricular activities and the like, we swing between scrambled eggs and beans on toast on a busy night to a homemade lasagne when the time is in our favour.  My children, and maybe yours too through no fault of their own, are very unaware of the personal lives of their peers.  Sadly it is statistically likely that a few of their friends will go home to families where money for food is scarce. I know that in the city I live in, child poverty affects approximately 1 in 7 children, it saddens me to have learnt this.

If you feel this is a topic you would rather not discuss with your children, and I would understand all the reasons why you might come to this decision, then you can always make a small donation yourself next time you’re at the shops.  Please feel no judgement here.

Choosing his items to donate

And for the children:

So how do we begin to talk to our children about social issues like hunger? How best do we explain the reasons why hunger exists in our country? While I’m sure it may be tempting to shield our children from these issues, talking about how some families struggle to provide enough food is an opportunity to introduce the values of sympathy, generosity and understanding for others.

First and foremost, it’s very important to reassure your children during these kinds of conversations so as not to sow any seeds of fear or doubt.  Assure them that they can ask lots of questions, assure them that they are going to do something, with your help, to help others who find themselves in this situation.

I’ll just interject here that the chat may not go as planned.  I embarked on this conversation 3 times with my youngest son.  The first time he got bored and walked out of the room.  The second time he told me in no uncertain terms what we must buy to donate, lego and chocolate.  The day we donated our offering of peanut butter and sardines, (sensibly chosen from a list) he went on to have an almighty paddy 30 seconds later because I wouldn’t buy him a  magazine on the way out.  Keep your expectations of this deep and meaningful chat to a minimum. We can only introduce these ideas and hope that some of what we talk about sinks in.  More than anything just be mindful to make the conversation appropriate to their age and understanding.

With that last sentence very much in mind, moderate this next part accordingly.  I am by no means an expert in this field, I am simply a mum trying to help my sons think outside their bubbles and this is how I approached it…. (each of the 3 times with their varying results!)

Making his donation

With my youngest, I started by asking him how he feels when he is hungry, I asked him what he does when he’s hungry and where he goes for food if he wants something to eat.  I then asked him what he would do if there wasn’t enough food at home and if we didn’t have much money to buy food. How might that make him feel?  He struggled with this concept saying we’d just go to Nanny’s house because she always has biscuits, so I changed tack. I explained to him that not having enough money for food was a real thing for some families but that there are places called food banks where these families can go to get food.   Depending on how your chat is going, as I did with my eldest son who was categorically more interested than his brother, you could continue to explain that different families find themselves in need for different reasons and that it is often not their fault that they have found themselves in need.  Any family of any size, from any background, can find themselves affected by poverty and if they come across someone they know who might be in this situation then they must be kind and sympathetic and not judge them.

In the end, I summarised the process like this for my youngest to think about.  We and other people in the supermarket can buy food and then donate something out of our bags to put into the food bank basket, the food bank people collect our donations and take them to a place where the food can be given to people with less money.  This is where I left it. Simply put and a process he seemed to understand.

After your talk, I guess it’s natural for children to wonder if they’ll ever find themselves struggling to get enough food too.  The thought did occur to my eldest. I tried to resist the urge to promise that he, or we, would never need help buying food because I felt it wrong to do so.  Instead, I focussed on how fortunate we are to live in a country where charitable organisations exist and members of the public like us work together to support those less fortunate.  We never know when we may find ourselves in need, but if we did we would be okay.  I know for a fact that my eldest son, being as perceptive as he is, can easily feel vulnerable and powerless if he senses there is a problem and I don’t talk to him about it.  I try to keep the dialogue open about everything including the family finances (to an appropriate degree) to assure him that he can always talk to me if he is concerned.

So go for it…

Do some research if you can, think about how you might discuss this topic with your child, assuming of course that you feel it appropriate to do so. Find a list of foods which are actually needed by your local food bank and donate them.  Despite my long post on the subject it really is that simple to make a positive impact on another’s life.


Thank you to the supermarkets Sainsburys, ASDA and Tesco for allowing me to photograph their food bank bins and baskets.  Thank you too to my local Food Bank, a community-led project and registered charity, for replying to my emails and assisting me with my research.

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