This time of year is often one of reflection, and for me thankfulness of how fortunate we are.
Thank God, never have we struggled to feed our family or had to make the difficult decision about whether to chose to eat or put the heating on.
I'm not sure Ruby fully appreciates how lucky she is that she goes to school each morning with a tummy full of breakfast, a packed lunch and a cooked meal to come home to. She can wander to the cupboard and help herself to a snack or open the fridge and get herself some juice.
I am painfully aware that it is not like this for everyone. There are many people struggling in our own communities for a whole host of reasons.
Take for example 'Jane' who contacted the Bedford Food Bank recently:
"I am really struggling since coming to Bedford to escape domestic violence with my 2 daughters. I am on job seekers allowance..."
She was put in touch with one of the local managers, and they were able to provide her with an emergency food package. After her visit, she emailed the team:
"I just wanted to say thank you to yourself and the ladies at the foodbank for helping me out today. I cried when I got back to the car. I reluctantly ask for help and this was a big thing for me. The food will last us probably a week.
Thank you so much.
Hers is not an isolated story, in fact last year food banks fed over 128,000 people and this year that number is expected to rise by 80%.
Food banks provide emergency food for 3 days - the length of time estimated for the welfare system to step in.
With the cost of living increasing month by month, rocketing fuel bills, changes to benefits and tax credits and a wage system that's struggling to keep up, there is a massive increase in the number in 'working poverty'. According to The Trussell Trust who run our local food bank, approximately 50% of their clients come from families where at least one adult is in work.
There are referrals by school liaison officers who, following up on poor attendance have found children kept home from school because their parents can't afford their packed lunch. There are clients who, faced with an unexpected bill or drop in their hours at work suddenly find they can't afford to put food on the table.
So, this year instead of sending toys in a shoebox like we did last, we've decided to help support our local food bank. Yes, it's lovely for kids to get presents at Christmas, but for me, the first priority has to be that they are fed and nourished.
This will be our new Christmas tradition, making this a part of our Christmas shopping, giving us time to think of others and talk about the issues with Ruby. I'm very much looking forward to meeting the food bank team in the New Year to see how we can support them further and in a more long-term way.
Yesterday, we downloaded a shopping list and took it along to the supermarket which also acts as a collection point. Ruby was in charge of finding suitable items, and we found it a very inspiring and practical way to give.
She learnt about what food items were suitable to give - long-life items such as tinned and dried goods - she thought about what would be healthy and nutritious, and what would be the best value so our donation stretched further.
She really enjoyed being involved, and has been full of questions ever since. It's a much more hands-on and practical way to give than chucking a few quid in a collection tin. I hope it makes her think next time she helps herself to something from the fridge.
If you feel you can add a few items to your grocery shop to donate to your local food bank please do. The largest network of food banks is operated by the Trussell Trust, but there are others so do a Google search of 'Food Bank *your town*' and see how you can help.