Give something back this Christmas: Take the foodbank Advent challenge

26 October 2017

I like Christmas. It was magical when my children were small and I’m still looking forward to it this year when they will both be ‘coming home for Christmas’. I like the decorations, the long meals, the games and the presents… I even like the John Lewis adverts.

But the commercial emphasis on buying seems to start earlier and get louder every year. Now, some parents don’t just produce stocking and tree presents for their children, but a Christmas Eve box of goodies as well. 

And the little Advent calendars that used to have a tiny picture behind each window are now even targeted at adults, containing crisps, craft beers or beauty products.

This year, however, I’m taking part in the UK Money Bloggers’ Christmas campaign – creating a 'reverse Advent calendar' for my local foodbank.

With an Advent calendar, you open a window each day from 1 December to Christmas Day (25 December) and get a reward.

In a reverse Advent calendar, you pick one item a day to donate to your local foodbank and put it into a box.

You could do this for 25 days before Christmas to mirror the Advent calendar. If you have children, get them to choose the food bank donation before they open their own Advent calendar.

However, the reason I’m telling you about this initiative now, is because I am going to be collecting during November. I can then donate the box in the first week of December when it will be most needed for Christmas.

What are foodbanks?

Trussell Trust is a charity, which run most of Britain’s foodbanks. People are referred to it for help by Citizens Advice, GPs and social services. They are then given a voucher for three days of food for their family.

More than 90% of the food that is distributed is donated by the public. Local foodbanks also use money they are given to buy items they are very short of in order to give everyone a balanced diet. 

Find your local Trussell Trust foodbank using the tool on its website. This tool provides a link to your local website so you can check where to take your food box to and when.

What goes in a foodbank parcel?

The most important thing to remember is that food has to be long life as it may take days to be distributed and it can’t be kept in fridges.

A typical parcel for a family of four people may include:

  • a large box of cereal 
  • six tins of beans 
  • six tins of soup 
  • a jar of pasta sauce 
  • six tins of spaghetti 
  • five tins of vegetables/tomatoes 
  • three tins of meat or meat pies 
  • three tins of fish 
  • two tins of fruit 
  • two tins of rice or sponge puddings 
  • a large packet biscuits
  • 2kg of rice or pasta 
  • tea bags or coffee
  • a large bag of sugar 
  • two cartons of UHT milk or powdered milk 
  • one carton of fruit juice

Items such as jam, lentils, and porridge will be added by the foodbank team depending on what is available, plus nappies, baby wipes, and baby food if needed.

Many foodbanks also have boxes of extra products where people in need can select a couple of items including toiletries, sanitary towels and tampons, and household cleaning products.

Why should I create a reverse advent calendar?

Christmas is meant to be for everyone, and collecting a box to donate to a foodbank is a great way to show your children, grandchildren or other family members that it is a time for giving, not just for getting presents. 

Children may also like to decorate the box or include a home-made Christmas card.

There are tens of thousands of parents who are worried about how they can feed their children over Christmas. So will you join me in creating a reverse Advent calendar?

Sara Williams writes about debt, savings, and credit ratings on her award-winning blog, Debt Camel. An adviser at charity Citizens Advice, she wishes she didn’t have to give out so many food bank vouchers to her clients.