Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, sharing gifts and enjoying precious moments.
But for hundreds of families across Shropshire who are experiencing hardship, it can also be a very difficult period.
“For many people who are struggling to put food on the table, Christmas presents are something they can’t begin to think about,” says Ollie Locker, the manager of a food bank in the county.
That is why this year we are asking our generous band of readers to think of those less fortunate than themselves – and to help Feed A Family for Christmas.
In the run-up to Christmas, we will be working with food banks across the county, encouraging people to ensure that everybody gets a good square meal on Christmas Day – preferably with a few trimmings.
Over the coming weeks, we will be focusing on the work that Shropshire’s many food banks are doing in the run-up to Christmas, and urging people across the county to ensure nobody goes hungry over the festive period.
Ollie, who runs Telford Crisis Support at Sutton Hill, says the coronavirus has had a huge impact on the number of people needing help this year.
“Over the three months from August to October this year, we have distributed 20,000 food parcels, the same period last year it was about 15,000, so demand has increased by about a third,” he says.
“I don’t think those people would have been coming to us were it not for the coronavirus.”
This year Ollie and his team plan to distribute 100 Christmas boxes to people who are in need, to ensure they are able to enjoy the type of Christmas dinner most of us will take for granted. “We particularly need tinned vegetables,” says Ollie, who has run the food bank for six years. “We can put them with the fresh stuff we will get in a few days before we take them out on December 22-23.”
People can bring their donations into the food bank based at 78-83 Severn Walk, Sutton Hill, anytime between 10am and 4pm weekdays.
In the north of the county, the Whitchurch Food Bank will also be distributing Christmas parcels, including some to people who have not used the food bank before, but have been identified as being in need of a bit of extra help over the festive season.
Chairman Alan Scutt says: “We work with local schools each Christmas, and we ask them for families who meet the ‘just about managing’ criteria, who would benefit from a bit of assistance over the Christmas period.
“We make them a Christmas hamper. This year there are about 86 families we will be helping, and you can compare that with 32 last year.”
He says small jars of coffee, tinned custard and rice puddings, jam and tinned meat and tuna would be particularly helpful, along with tinned fruit, and perhaps a few sweets and chocolate treats that people can enjoy over Christmas.
Alan adds that the food bank also collects toys to give to youngsters up to the age of 17.
The charity has collection points at Sainsbury’s and Tesco in Whitchurch, the Co-op in Wem, and also at its base at Bargate Hall in Church Street, Whitchurch, from 9am to 12pm Tuesdays and Fridays.
Debbie Brown co-founded the Cleobury Mortimer food bank last year, which is a partnership between the town council and St Mary’s Church.
What started with just two or three users in October last year is now providing support for about 15 families, and for Christmas the group will be putting together festive hampers to ensure people will be able to have a good Christmas.
“Because of the financial situation at the moment, we are getting new families coming to us every week,” she says.
While the number of people coming to the Cleobury food bank is relatively small compared to those in the more urban parts of the county, Debbie says it does not mean that their help is any less needed.
Indeed, she says that falling on hard times can be particularly difficult if you live in one of the more remote parts of the county.
“One of the reasons we set up the food bank in Cleobury was that we heard people were having to travel to places like Kidderminster, Bridgnorth or Ludlow, and we haven’t got a very good public transport system out here, she says.
Debbie says the community in the town has been hugely supportive from the beginning, and the food bank now offers a place where people can feel comfortable in coming for help. The charity has collection points at the market hall in Cleobury Mortimer and St Mary’s Church, as well as at the Co-op and Select and Save shops in the town.
Helen McSherry has been manager of Market Drayton food bank since it was founded eight years ago as a partnership between the town’s churches and the Trussell Trust.
She says the problems that people have all year round do not take a break at Christmas.
“It’s just the same, only more difficult because there’s an expectation, a need to provide a Christmas meal for the family,” says Helen.
She says the charity cannot use fresh food, but tinned food is particularly welcome, including rice pudding and custard.
Microwaveable rice, tinned sardines, mackerel, ham and chicken are also urgently needed, along with eggs, sponge puddings and slab cakes.
Food can be donated at Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons in Market Drayton, at Co-op in Eccleshall, and also at the parish rooms in Church Street on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am to 11am.
Shropshire Star editor-in-chief, Martin Wright, said he really hoped readers would do their bit to help those who might be having a difficult time this year.
He said 2020 had been a year like no other, and that the coronavirus meant many more people would be needing helpthis Christmas. “Our everyday lives have been turned on their head by the pandemic and many of the freedoms that we have come to take for granted have – out of necessity – been curtailed to prevent the continued spread of the virus,” he said.
“While we are all hoping that vaccines will help us return to normal life at some point next year but, in the meantime, it is vital that campaigns such as Feed a Family at Christmas support those in need.
“In many ways it is more important than ever given the economic problems created by the pandemic.
“Please support it to help make the festive season that little bit better for those in need.”
What to donate
For those unsure of what items are needed and suitable, here is an easy-to-follow list of the most useful products to donate to our very worthy causes.
All of the items in this list need to have ‘best before’ dates beyond December. Some food banks will not accept festive items after a certain date to ensure it can all be distributed in time for Christmas. The food must not contain any alcohol:
Chocolates including selection boxes
Breakfast cereal (preferably non-sugared)
Milk (UHT or powder, preferably semi-skimmed)
Fruit juice (long-life)
Small jars of coffee
Tinned meat (ham,corned beef, Spam)
Tinned ready meals (chilli, meatballs, stew)
Tinned vegetarian ready meals (curry, ratatouille, macaroni cheese)
Packets of mashed potato/tinned potatoes
Tinned fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon & sardines)
Pasta sauce/cooking sauces
Tinned fruit (in juice preferably)
Tinned rice pudding/custard
Healthy snacks (small boxes of raisins/apricots)
Biscuits, crackers, crispbreads
Where and how to donate
Mondays, 10.30am to 12.30pm at Bridgnorth Food Bank, Number Seven, West Castle Street. Also: Co-op, Low Town; Bridgnorth Town Council Offices; Charlie’s at the Old Mill; Barclays Bank, High Street; Sainsbury’s; St Mary Magdalene’s Church.
Collections at the market hall, Church Street; St Mary’s Church; Co-op; Select and Save.
Rockspring Community Centre, Sandford Road; Also Tesco, Applegreen petrol station, and One Stop, Tower Street.
Market Drayton Food Bank, The Parish Rooms, Church Street. Also: Asda, Stafford Street; Co-op, Eccleshall Road, Loggerheads; Morrison’s, Maer Street; Sainsbury’s Local, Shrewsbury Road; and Savers Health & Beauty, Oak Court.
Royal Navy Club, Tuesdays 9.30-12.30am. Also: Nationwide, HSBC and Samuels dry cleaners.
Oswestry Food Bank, 56, Beatrice Street, Monday and Thursday, 11am-4pm. Also: Sainsbury’s, Oswestry; Tesco, Ellesmere; and St Oswald’s Vicarage, Penylan Lane.
Shrewsbury Food Bank, Barnabas Centre, Longden Coleham, 9.30am-12pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Also at Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Asda stores.
Telford Crisis Support, 78-83, Severn Walk, Sutton Hill, 10am-4pm weekdays. Also: Co-op, Priorslee, Stirchley and Ironbridge; One Stop, Shifnal; Morrison’s, Overdale; Sainsbury’s, Forge Retail Park; Leek United Building Society, Oakengates; Park Lane Centre; and Oak Tree Centre, Lightmoor.
Welshpool & Newtown:
Welshpool & District Food Bank, Kingswood Church, 10am-4pm weekdays, 10am-1pm Saturdays. Also: Sainsbury’s, Welshpool and Newtown; and Morrison’s, Welshpool.
Newtown: Salvation Army Shop, open 10am-12pm and 1pm-3.30pm Tuesday and Thursday.
Whitchurch Food Bank, Bargates Hall, Church Street, 9.30-11.30am, Tuesday and Friday. Also: Sainsbury’s, London Road; Tesco, White Lion Meadow; Co-Op, 83 Isherwoods Way, Wem.