It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and one of my favourite things about the holiday season is enjoying seasonal meals and treats. But, with even colder nights ahead and the cost of living continuing to rise, it’s not easy for everyone to enjoy the warming comforts of a delicious hot meal. We all deserve to stay warm and well-fed this winter, so I wanted to share some ways food can be fairer in Sheffield at Christmas. Whether you are struggling to make ends meet or are in a comfortable position and want to help, many organisations support Sheffield folk during this time of year.
Food is a right that we all should be able to access easily, but food poverty has skyrocketed in the last few years, with 2023 being the worst yet. A YouGov survey by the Food Foundation recently found 17.0% of households in the UK were ‘food insecure’ (ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food), up from 8.8% in January 2022 and 7.4% in January 2021. This steep increase is directly linked to the rising cost of living with food and non-alcoholic drink prices 19.1% higher in the 12 months leading up to March 2023, the highest since 1977.
The rising cost of food, fuel and rent, coupled with stagnating wages, needs to be addressed immediately by the government. However, instead of supporting the most vulnerable in our society, the recent budget announcements could see hundreds of thousands of people forced to find work despite suffering from a range of physical and mental health conditions. This will put more pressure on local services and send even more people into food poverty.
National government may be letting down people across the UK, including Sheffield, but fantastic organisations are doing their best to fill the gaps in our city and helping people get back on their feet.
Over 20 food bank organisations in the city and surrounding Sheffield Area provide food parcels, hot meals, tea, coffee and a place to stay warm. However, food banks aren’t the only place you can find food. Several community food pantries throughout the city offer food and meals for free, on a pay-what-you-can basis or at a very minimal price. The same is true of several social eating projects where you can get a delicious meal, meet others in your community and join in with activities and events.
We all deserve quality meals throughout the day. There is support if you need help accessing a food bank, social space or food pantry. Citizens Advice Sheffield offers free, confidential, impartial and independent advice and advocacy on various subjects, including providing food bank referrals. Visit their website for more information: https://citizensadvicesheffield.org.uk/ or call 0808 278 7820.
If you are instead looking to get involved with making food fairer in Sheffield, there are many ways you can help.
Donations to food banks and food pantries are an obvious suggestion for this time of year. However, during this giving time, some donations are better kept in your cupboard and used up when you can. Food banks don’t need quince jelly or half-eaten packets of mince pies. Instead, donate foods on your local food bank’s need list (most have it on their website or social media posts) that are non-perishable, within their best-before date, and most people can eat and enjoy.
There are also a few suggestions on specific items that are particularly needed right now: baby food and care items, pet food and Christmas items.
In the past few months, the cost of living crisis has worsened further. Parents have been heartbreakingly forced to reduce feeds for their young babies when they cannot afford baby milk formula (whose prices have skyrocketed). While many food banks will not accept formula donations, other care items and foods, such as nappies, nappy cream, and weaning snacks, will help. If you’d like to help new parents further, you can also support Baby Basics charity. Baby Basics is a volunteer-led project supporting new mothers and families struggling to meet the financial and practical burden of looking after a new baby.
We’ve also seen many people being pushed to choose between feeding themselves and their pets. Pets are part of people’s families and, for many, vital to good physical and mental health. While we may consider food donations for our fellow humans, offering pet food and other supplies, such as grooming items and treats, is another way to support many in our community.
Lastly is the exciting gift of Christmas food. I know it’s many people’s favourite part of the festivities, so we all deserve to join in with tasty treats. Creating a Christmas hamper of your favourite festive foods is a welcomed gift for many organisations.
Of course, donations of money are also great gifts organisations can use to buy specific food and household items, help with overheads, or buy Christmas gifts for children. If you feel like getting more hands-on in your giving, December and January are fantastic months to volunteer. Most food banks, pantries and social hubs are actively looking for volunteers for the winter period, so why not get in touch today?
ShefFood is the food partnership for Sheffield. They are a cross-sector partnership of organisations committed to creating a more sustainable food system for Sheffield. For more information or to get involved, please contact ShefFood’s Partnership Coordination Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sheffood.org.uk