Earlier this year, my kids received a late Christmas present of £10 each. Rather than give them licence to cruise the local shops, though, this was money with a string attached: they had to pass it on to somebody who needed it more than they did.
After some discussion, they decided to shop for a food bank. Food banks are springing up across Buckinghamshire as in the rest of the UK; I know of banks in Chesham and Rickmansworth and there are, I understand, talks of a bank in Chalfont St Peter. We found a local organisation, the One Can Trust, established that their collection point is just the other side of Beaconsfield, and went shopping to a local supermarket.
The charity gives out lists of what it needs, and this does not include fresh food, so immediately our shopping experience was different from usual as we headed for the aisles of tins. The children had to buy to a budget, and kept a running total of what they put in the trolley.
My daughter alighted on large cans of potatoes for 14p, and collected an armful. Her strategy was clear: pile it high, get as much as you can for your money - more food feeds more people. My son’s reaction was a little more complex. Whilst he completely got the ‘quantity’ argument, he was uncomfortable that cost was the overriding consideration. ‘I know I’ve only got £10’, he said, ‘but why can’t they have nice food too?’ A tricky one, hard to resolve. Making up rules on the hoof that actually bear scrutiny is part of being a parent, so we decided that the quality couldn’t fall below certain standards; for example, no items full of additives, and we were also really hesitant about cheap meat products that might be bulked out by donkeys’ toe nails, or something equally unspeakable. I guess that the bottom line was if we wouldn’t eat it ourselves, we wouldn’t buy it for anyone else.
We learnt a lot of lessons that day, not least how hard it is to buy frugally, yet nourishingly. I have to admit that I have not, since far-off student days, had to eke out a small sum of money to feed a person healthily and cheaply and the experience was timely and humbling. And as we did the task, and delivered our little boxes to the drop off point, we couldn’t but...not walk in the shoes of people who are in such need, but think a lot about them, and the disparity in the fortunes of our local population.
People in communities all have different needs and most of us try to support each other in a variety of ways. That we live amongst people who are struggling to feed their families is a relatively new departure which hopefully will be treated with the same community spirit.