Christmas and the holidays that surround it are a time of joy and celebration for most people. But as you’re loading up your shopping trolley with festive food and drink, and gifts, spare a thought for people like me for whom this time of year is particularly difficult.
Twelve years ago, my relationship broke down and I suffered from mental health issues. I found life difficult and ended up walking out of my job as a warehouse manager, which I had held for 28 years. Since then, I’ve been homeless twice. That was really hard – mainly, I spent my days walking around quiet places such as canals, trying to stay out of people’s way.
These days, I’ve got a housing association flat but jobs are sporadic and the benefits you get from the government don’t go very far. The changes to Universal Credit mean I get even less. I’m almost always behind on my rent and rarely have enough to cover all my bills. I end up with about £12 a week to spend on food. I’m organised, budget carefully and cook from scratch so I can make the money stretch as far as possible, but it’s not easy. It’s never quite enough and I tend to eat the same meals almost every day.
One day in October, I was walking back home from town when I stumbled across FoodCycle entirely by accident. There was a sign up outside the church saying they were serving food. It was about 6pm, they said if I came back at about 7pm I could have something to eat. Since then, I’ve been every Wednesday. It gives me something to dress up smartly and make an effort for.
There’s usually at least two courses and sometimes it’s even three – last time I had soup, then a vegetable hot pot, and then lemon drizzle cake. If they have food leftover, they’ll send me away with a takeaway, which will often do me for dinner for a couple of days. Sometimes they give me bits and pieces like bread or vegetables. When I’m on such a tight budget, FoodCycle really helps make life easier.
I know I’m not the only one who has to rely on charities for help like this. I saw some research from the Big Give that said one in six people in the UK might need to use charity services over Christmas, including food banks.
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The Big Give is a charity that helps other charities fundraise so they can continue to deliver important services such as the ones that I’ve been using. This week between 30 November and 7 December, the Big Give is running its annual Christmas Challenge, a campaign that will give donors the opportunity to have any donations they make doubled at no extra cost to themselves. There’s more than 900 charities taking part, including FoodCycle, the charity that has been so good to me for all these months.
I don’t know what I’d do without FoodCycle. It’s not just about the food. I also love seeing friendly faces during mealtimes and having a chat. Often, I’ll have barely spoken to anyone for the rest of the week. The FoodCycle volunteers are so friendly and always make me feel welcome. I always say thank you to them, what great people they are, but they say “not at all, thank you for coming”. It’s a really important part of my life now which gives structure to my week.
I read that people aren’t giving as much these days because of the pandemic. I’m so grateful to those who do donate. Charities offer such lifelines to so many people around the country. It sounds like they’re going to be really busy this Christmas and could do with lots of help. I hope those who can, donate to the Big Give Christmas Challenge – they really do help people like me.