Reverse advent calendar food bank campaign

Reverse advent calendar

A month ago at the UK Money Bloggers conference I first heard about their ‘reverse advent calendar’ food bank campaign, though the idea has been around for a couple of years. It’s the reason why I found myself this past weekend with about 10 other volunteers at my local food bank in Redbridge, East London to find out more.

What is a reverse advent calendar?

I used to love an advent calendar. I’d open the window each day to a picture or chocolate, excitement mounting as I counted down the days to Christmas Day. With a reverse advent calendar, rather than receiving a small gift each day, you take an empty box or bag and place a small item for your local food bank into it each day. The UK Money Bloggers campaign is taking place throughout November so that the items can be donated at the end of the month in time for Christmas. This is especially useful if you plan to donate Christmas goodies, such as mince pies or chocolates, as food banks will have cut-off dates for collections maybe a few days or weeks before Christmas. However, if you prefer to do your reverse advent calendar during December, just focus on essential items that will be equally welcome all year round.

What do food banks do?

Most food banks are run by The Trussell Trust, and you can find details on their website of your local food bank if you’d like to get involved. They are a charity working to end poverty and hunger in the UK, set up initially in Bulgaria 20 years ago, and since 2004 in the UK. They now have over 400 food banks, run by local communities, where people in crisis can be referred by partner organisations, such as GPs, job centres, or the Citizens Advice Bureau. It’s a sad state of affairs that people in the UK, living in your street perhaps, definitely in your local area, are in need of the food parcels available via food banks, which contain 3 days’ worth of emergency supplies. There are many reasons why people find themselves reliant on food banks, such as low income, benefit delays or changes, debt, homelessness and ill-health, and these food parcels provide valuable support for people in a time of need.

What should I donate?

Food banks can only take items with a long shelf life, such as tinned or packet foods, as much will be stored before being handed out to clients. In the food bank I visited, food was sorted first by date, then by type (e.g. milk, juice, tomatoes, beans), and they had an organised system of moving food with longer shelf lives into storage, while ensuring the food that needs to be used within the next few months is ready for collection. Food that is out of date is wasted as they are not allowed to give this to clients, so if you plan on rummaging for items you’ve long forgotten about at the back of your cupboards, please check first that it will still be useful!

Typical contents of a food parcel

The Trussell Trust has a list on their website of typical items:

  • Cereal
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Beans
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tea/coffee
  • Tinned fruit
  • Biscuits

These will all be welcome, but you could also check directly with your local food bank which items they need. For example, my local food bank also has the following on their list:

  • Tinned fish
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Tinned rice pudding
  • Milk (UHT or powdered)
  • Long-life juice
  • Instant mash potato
  • Tinned sponge pudding

Essential toiletries are also in demand, for example:

  • Shower gel
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Deodorant
  • Disposable razors
  • Shaving foam

I’m also going to put some plastic bags into my donation as they are used to give the food to clients, so go quickly. Some clients don’t have access to cooking facilities, so one-pot noodles for example that can be prepared just with a kettle can be useful, and tins with ring-pulls might be better than those without in case clients don’t have tin-openers.

Why get involved?

Other than the obvious benefits of supporting a good cause and preventing people from going hungry, Christmas is a very busy time of year for referrals. It’s an expensive time of year, with school holidays, extra heating costs, and added pressures linked to the festive season.

If you’re interested in doing a reverse advent calendar yourself, you can share your story on social media using  #FoodbankAdvent. If you’d rather just buy a few extra items in your weekly shop rather than commit all month, keep an eye out for collection points in your local area, for example the local supermarket. Alternately, if you don’t have the time to collect and donate individual food items, it may be more convenient for you to donate money. You can donate on The Trussell Trust website, or maybe your local food bank website, as mine has a donation page on their website. If you’ve time to spare, why not also volunteer your time?

It’s the first of November tomorrow and the kick-off for my reverse advent calendar countdown. Hopefully some of you can also take part for a good cause?

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2 Responses

  1. weenie says:

    There’s a food bin at work and these past few months, I’ve gotten into the habit of buying and bringing in a couple of items each week, along with other colleagues. I always include a small bag of rice and toothpaste or shower gel. Our local food bank must cater for a lot of females as they’re always asking for sanitary protection so I usually include those too. All the best with your reverse advent calendar!

    • Sarah says:

      Ah thanks Weenie, and that’s a great habit to be in, it really makes a difference. Well done to your employer too, people are often keen to donate, and half the battle is making it easier to do so.

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