Opinion

This is the reality of using a food bank at Christmas

Christmas was the lowest point - I was devastated I couldn't provide for my family, writes Amie Alissa Watson

Mother-of-two Amie Alissa Watson writes about her family's experience using food banks.

It’s a worrying time for everyone again this year in the build-up to Christmas as we are faced with the new Omicron variant

On top of this there have been many stories flying around about food stocks running low, supply shortages and delays leaving many people worried they won’t be able to get all their favourite festive trimmings. All we want is to sit around a table with our loved ones, tucking into the perfect Christmas dinner, after so much separation last year. 

In reality though, thousands of people will struggle to afford to put any food on the table at all, after perhaps losing a job or falling sick. Many will be forced to use a food bank just to survive. The Trussell Trust network of food banks gave out 2.5 million emergency food parcels last year and predicts its network will give out 7,000 a day this month. 

I was in this situation in recent years after my marriage broke down and I lost my job. I had been a lecturer in fashion and textiles for 10 years, but one day it all just changed. 

The concept of a food bank was alien to me and my family and never in my life had I dreamt I would need to visit one, but with no savings and two children to care for I had no other option. 

I found it very hard to accept I would need to claim Universal Credit to survive. I felt guilty taking any benefits at all and felt grateful for the help I did receive. But the truth is it’s still a struggle to pay bills and buy enough food for a family on the amount of money you receive with your weekly benefits payment, and so we ended up at the food bank. 

My children and I made the best of a difficult situation and would make it an exciting challenge to see what we could make from the amazing selection of tins and dry packets of food we were given. 

Christmas was the lowest point. I was due to host my family that year but it was just impossible – I was devastated I couldn’t provide for my family. Luckily, my sister stepped in and took on the role and I contributed a homemade Christmas pudding. 

After six months I got a part-time job and got thoroughly involved volunteering in a local community food cooperative. I then set up a social enterprise called Slow Circular Earth UK that helps educate women on how to live more sustainably, and survive on very little money through accessing food which would otherwise go to landfill. 

I was brought up not to waste food and to think about the environment, so it’s always been a driving force. 

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Christmas is the worst time for anyone to be faced with not being able to afford food. What was harder than actually collecting the food was knowing that other people knew I was struggling. 

There is so much shame and stigma attached to claiming benefits and using food banks. It was pretty awful to think I was being judged; that people were making assumptions about me. I don’t want other people to have to feel that way. 

It still blows my mind that so many people are going without food in this day and age.

It’s not good enough that people in our country, one of the richest in the world, are worried about finding enough money to eat on any day, let alone at Christmas. 

I’d like to see more of an open conversation about it so people have a better understanding of how it feels to be in this situation. Then we can stand together and say it’s not right that any one of us can’t afford the basics.  I want to encourage others to support the Trussell Trust’s campaign so others can be helped like I was: https://www.trusselltrust.org/impossible-decisions/

Amie Alissa Watson is the founder of Slow Circular Earth UK, a not-for-profit organisation based in North Lincolnshire. She is also a mother-of-two.

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