Christmas at Truro Foodbank
written by Jac Smith for Secret Truro December 2016
My children are a bit old to count the sleeps to Christmas, or at least admit to it, but I remember it well. The excitement of seeing Christmas through their eyes, the planning, happy secrets, thrill of parcels arriving in the post and endlessly inventive ways to hide the hoped for presents before the big day.
For many families, here in Truro, Christmas isn’t anything like that. It’s a time of worry, shame and disappointment. Worry that there’s no money to put food on the table, never mind presents under the tree. Shame because parents can’t provide in the same way that other parents seem too, and disappointment because it’s Christmas and the last thing anyone feels is excited.
When I walked into the Truro Foodbank at Highertown, it was a hive of activity. Full of people, sorting food into categories, popping it in waiting boxes, stacking shelves or unstacking shelves. In a side room, people sat on the floor, wrapping presents, working out if they’d would be good for boys, girls, young, older or parents – a knitted frog, a Lego set, bubbly bath stuff, box of chocolates…there was no shortage of excitement or joy.
Everyone was getting ready for whoever might walk through the doors that morning. And that could be anyone – so far this month alone it’s been 164 families.
In these times poverty isn’t exclusively for the obviously marginalised. Cornwall is one of the poorest counties in Europe, marked by the growing divisions between the super wealthy and the struggling. Without a substantial industrial infrastructure, it’s hard to get work. With all the current changes in benefits, disability allowances and cuts to care, mental health and services for vulnerable people, it has become too easy to slip-up. Lose a job, miss a deadline, mess up a form, misunderstand a question or just not be able to face up to whatever it is that is required to keep the wheels turning.
At Foodbank, no one judges. Everyone is greeted with a smile, a cup of tea, a biscuit and the chance to have a chat as well as a helping hand.
Janet, who works at Foodbank, says that many people come in fearfully, feeling they’ve reached the end of the line. “For many, it’s a temporary blip. A time that we can fill the gap, point them to an organisation that can help. But it’s hard to think straight when you’re hungry and can’t feed your family.” That’s a difficult thought for many of us, but too often mothers have gone without. Not just missed a breakfast or grabbed something insubstantial for lunch, but not eaten anything, sometimes for days.
The Truro Foodbank is mainly staffed by volunteers but Janet, Andy and Bob work full time. That is, they are contracted, and paid, to work ten hours a week, but all work way beyond that. Bob is probably known by your children – he often visits schools to talk about Foodbank, especially around Harvest Festival.
“It’s been overwhelming this year”
“In the weeks leading up to Christmas I had to go to Tesco’s, Sainsburys, the Co-op and M&S three times more than I usually do just to empty the boxes left at the store for food donations. It’s been overwhelming this year.” says Bob.
Janet added that the people of Truro have really opened their hearts and larders. Families have been dropping off food at the centres, local churches have come together to help and local business are coming up with increasingly creative ways to donate. Local companies help out too.
Vospers are one such company, organising a fabulous challenge to fill up one of their cars with food to donate to Foodbank. Other companies, like Lush, donated items for 50 Christmas hampers put together to ensure local families had something special for Christmas. Says Janet, “We’d like to thank everyone that has helped over the holidays, for making sure that the excitement of Christmas is something that can be shared by everyone, no matter what their circumstances.”