Lend a helping hand this festive season
By Jenny Cook
For the majority of us, the thought of peeling ourselves off the sofa to spend Christmas day away from our families and the comfort of home sounds nothing short of unthinkable. But, for many, Christmas without any home comforts is very much a reality.
According to national statistics, around 3,569 people slept rough on England’s streets at any one night in 2015 – a figure that is thought to be on the rise. Meanwhile, food bank usage remains at a record high, and our elderly community faces an ongoing loneliness epidemic.
If you’ve ever thought of giving your time to help others who perhaps aren’t so fortunate, here’s what you need to know…
- Help the homeless
Dedicated to ending homelessness and campaigning for change, Crisis at Christmas provides safe and warm places where homeless people can spend the festive period. With support from volunteers, guests can enjoy hot food, a shower, a haircut, clean clothing and other types of support. Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes, says:
“Christmas can be a lonely, isolating time for those without a home to call their own. This year has seen an alarming rise in the number of rough sleepers in England, all of whom deserve the shelter, companionship and support many of us take for granted over the festive period. That’s why the compassion and dedication of Crisis at Christmas volunteers is needed more than ever. By helping to make Christmas happen for homeless people, volunteers can not only bring some much-needed cheer to our guests but also set them up with the chance to have a more positive year ahead through the life-changing services at our centres across the country.”
Getty Oli Scarff
- Fight the loneliness epidemic
For the past few years, charities have used Christmas as an opportunity to highlight the loneliness epidemic felt acutely by 1.2 million Britons aged 65 and over. Community Christmas believes that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on the 25th of December unless they want to be, and as such works to provide companionship to older people by running Christmas lunch events, organising a film viewing or anything else that can be enjoyed by all those that take part, creating a chance to meet up with old friends and forge new friendships that last well beyond the single day. Caroline Billington, the founder of Community Christmas, says:
“I set it up because I believe that no old person in the UK should be alone on Christmas day unless they want to be. Through the website, people can find out what’s going on in their area and then get involved – whether that’s by going along to a lunch or helping to organise the events. It’s a bit like match making!”
While many are no longer looking for volunteers, you can still help out by identifying your nearest Community Christmas lunch or other event and signposting any elderly neighbours to them. If there is no event nearby, something as simple as popping around to say hello to your elderly neighbours or inviting them over to Christmas dinner will be hugely beneficial. In case you need any more convincing, watch Age UK‘s latest Christmas campaign video, below….
- Feed those who really need it
Every Christmas, we throw away the equivalent of 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. This is in stark contrast to the record levels of demand for food banks and meals at community programmes for the homeless and hungry. That’s why charities such as City Harvest – who work with high-profile retailers and manufacturers such as Marks & Spencer and Morrisons to deliver five tonnes of food per week to those who feed London’s hungry – are so important. Ian Breen, Director of Acton Homeless Concern, a drop-in centre for the homeless which City Harvest delivers to, says:
“As the weather gets colder our numbers steadily go up. We have a special Christmas lunch on 23rd of December and during this month we see an increase of about 15-20%.”
Be conscious and realistic about your food consumption this festive season. Simple steps such as planning ahead, being sensible with portions and using leftovers wisely will not only pave the way for a healthier diet, but also ensure you cut down food waste.
If you do have food going spare this Christmas, or simply want to donate, find your nearest food bank here. City Harvest are always looking for volunteers on Christmas day and throughout the year, as well as donations. Supporters can get in touch via their website www.cityharvest.org.uk, by email [email protected], or on Facebook and Twitter.