A Burton mum who turned to a food bank out of desperation has praised the vital service for keeping her children from going hungry.
The mum, who wishes only to be known as Karen, has shared her heartbreaking experience in a bid to break the taboo surrounding food banks and encourage others to be more giving and thankful for what they have.
It comes as the Burton Mail this week launched its Feed Our Families appeal. We work with you, our ever generous and caring readers to collect food for the food banks across the area. It is the fourth year we have run Feed Our Families and the aim is to make sure everyone has food on the table at Christmas.
In previous years we have collected thousands of items, including tins and bags of pasta, which go to the food banks and then are distributed to people in need.
Karen, was first forced to ask for help back in 2007, when problems with her benefits left her cupboards empty and her children going hungry.
She said: "I was absolutely desperate. I thought there was no help available and I felt like I had no-one to turn to. Back then it wasn’t like it is now; it was unheard of really. I had to go through the Salvation Army and the health visitor supported me so I got one delivered.
"I felt so ashamed but so relieved that help was available."
The mother-of-five has since used the service several times after a serious and traumatic incident coupled with anxiety and a mental health condition left her unable to work.
She said: "I have got a local support team worker who helps point me in the right direction when things get tough. There have been times when I went hungry for days to make sure my children ate; as a mother I will do whatever it takes."
For Karen, judgement is what she fears the most, but she said it was a "needs must" situation to use the food banks.
She said: "I have longed to go back to work but my illness prevents that. I lost two of my very close loved ones at a young age and I have had to go through awful things but I get by and I don’t grumble. But I do struggle with a number of issues, including crippling anxiety.
"Saying that, I know people that work day and night but they are still in the same boat as me. The way rent and bills are it can be hard to survive, money is going down and the cost of living is going up, but it is not anybody’s fault they are in this position.
"It still surprises me to see how judgemental people can be and you are very lucky if you have never experienced hardship. You have not walked in anyone else’s shoes and the evidence is clear at the moment and reflected in just how much of a need there is for food banks in our communities so there needs to be more sensitivity and compassion around the subject.
"I do not take this service for granted but I know just how vital it is and how it has stopped my family from going hungry on more than one occasion.
"People are having their benefits changed and there are lots of ups and downs with Universal Credit which puts pressure on people who want to be able to provide for their families.
"When you look around you there are people who are desperate for work but can’t get it.
"The world is not a nice place sometimes and it is hard; people are really struggling from day to day."
Karen said the food parcels she receives always offer a selection of items that can feed a family of two adults and two children for a week.
She said: "The contents always differ but are always full of essentials. There are tins of beans and ravioli, pasta, pasta sauce, chicken in white wine sauce, fruit and veg, frozen meals that have been damaged, tea, coffee and toilet rolls. I even got a block of cheese the other day which was amazing and which I didn’t expect.
"It is food that goes a long way for a needy family."
Karen said she wants to tackle the stigma around food bank use and celebrate the incredible work the volunteers at the service do.
She said: "It does make me nervous talking about this because I know what people will think of me but it needs to be said. The message needs to be put out there so struggling families know there is help nearby.
"I am incredibly grateful because I have been on the brink of despair and it is the kindness and generosity of others that has got me through the dark days. It gave me relief and meant I was spared sleepless nights worrying that I am not going to be able to feed my children.
"It is unthinkable what people would do without them; people would go dangerously hungry.
"People shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help because there is always someone to turn to whether it is friends, family or a local authority.
"I am quite lucky because I have my food parcels delivered to me but I have been to food banks before and I know how embarrassing it can be but I give them their due, the volunteers are always very polite and welcoming and there is no judgement."
Karen said her struggles have made her more appreciative of the things she does have and she tries to give something back when she finds herself with spare cash.
She said: "There have been times when I have relied on them which has been difficult and should not be happening in this day and age but I never waste and it has changed my perspective on some things.
"My children are warm, loved, have a roof over their heads and for that I am thankful. I would love to invite the homeless into my home for Christmas or give something to the elderly.
"This position was not something I ever planned on finding myself in and I am afraid that I have sometimes come to rely on food banks, but what else am I supposed to do?
"There is no doubt about it - they are a lifesaver to many in this town."
What can I donate to Feed Our Families?
For those of you who have made the generous decision to give something to the needy this Christmas, you may be a bit unsure of just what the food banks are after to get the most out of the foods. Therefore we have produced a list of non-perishable items that will be gratefully received.
Items which you can donate:
- UHT milk (500ml or 1 litre cartons or screw top bottles)
- Breakfast cereal
- Tinned meals
- Tinned meat for Irish stew, chilli con carne, spaghetti bolognese, ravioli, macaroni cheese
- Tinned hot dogs
- Minced beef, curry, meatballs, etc
- Tinned pies
- Corned beef
- Tinned or packet vegetables
- Tinned fruit
- Tinned tuna, salmon, sardines, etc
- Baked beans
- Spaghetti hoops
- Pasta sauce
- Savoury rice
- Pot Noodles
- Rice pudding
- Cereal bars
How can you donate to Feed Our Families?
For many people Christmas is a happy time, but for some it can be anything but.
A few pounds could be the difference between a family in need eating or going hungry. Just 50p could buy a tin of soup, and help keep a child warm. So where can you donate? We are appealing for people to pop one extra tin in their weekly shop and donate that. Of course, if you can afford more that would be brilliant.
There will be drop-off points at Burton in Sainsbury's, in Union Street, and Sainsbury's, in Civic Way, Swadlincote, with many more businesses soon expected to get involved.
If you are a pupil at a local school, check if there is a donation point there and if not, ask your teachers to get your school involved.
Punch Taverns is backing the campaign, as are schools including Granville Academy and Paulet High School.
We want you, our generous readers, to also donate, whether that be setting up a collection point at your youth club or in the pub. If you want to get involved, please contact reporter Rhea Turner on 01283 245047 or email email@example.com
And over the next few weeks we will bringing you stories of everyone who donates.