How a Christmas Nativity Scene and a 22p tin of baked beans made me think differently this Christmas.

Every year we all see and hear about the family who say that they are not buying Christmas Cards this year and donating money to charity. It’s a noble cause and one with many benefits (charitable and environmental).

As a family we do this every year. I am pushed into designing ‘THE CARD’ each October. The kids and the dog all throw in their ideas and we normally have a laugh, then when it comes to me being a pushy art director, we all fall out (or maybe that’s just me). We post the picture on social and wish everyone a Merry Christmas with our funny family images. Then normally at the last minute we donate £30 or £50 to a massive UK/Worldwide charity. Job done for another year.

This year was no different. The team gathered, threw around some ideas and we came up with this year’s big plan. Off we trooped to take our photos, I designed the image for all our social channels and we then posted it out to all our friends and family online. Hooray. But this year we did something different with the donation. We went shopping.

It was my wife Lesley’s suggestion, off we went to our local ASDA, grabbed a trolley and went food shopping to support the local foodbank. Whilst the area (Falkirk, Stirlingshire) is relatively small in compared to a Glasgow, Manchester and London, every week they have 6,137 people (including nearly 2,000 children) receive food from the foodbank. A staggering 1 in 5 of the UK population lives below the poverty line. This information may slip through the gaps, but here’s where you really notice what this really means and how challenging this figure really is.

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Our plan was to zoom around the supermarket, with a budget of £50. We’d throw in some mince pies, some crackers, some Twiglets (love them or hate them!). But this was going to be a different type of shop. Have a quick think of what you would normally spend on your weekly shop down at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons? The Office of National Statistics suggest that the average weekly shop for a family of four in the UK is £81.40. Now we’ve all seen these TV shows where the standard family are spending £120, £180 or £200+ a week on their weekly shop. So, £81.40 is a shy figure compared to what you are thinking in your heads, right?

Buying for a foodbank has certain restrictions, obviously we cannot buy anything perishable, so no fruit, breads or dairy items. But in general, the rest of the store is fair game. So, we set off, with a goal of making the most of our £50 budget.

We’ll this was a massive eye opener. As soon as we set off, I’m being reprimanded for putting tins of branded soup at 65p in the trolley. Lesley stops to correct me; we need a different set of eyes for this expedition.

We have to look down, way down to the floor and in the bottom, stuck in the corner there lives the ‘Extra Value’, ‘Smartprice’ ranges. This is your basics, no branding, no big advertising, no big plush creative on the cans. Simple effective, consistent info. Tomato soup 24p. Baked beans 22p, Sliced carrots 20p, Pasta shapes 29p, Porridge 75p, Rice pudding 20p. We buy six tins and packets of everything.

Asda SmartPrice Range

This is completely different and ashamedly embarrassing that I am now looking at each item and trying to find the best prices, best value, planning a week or two’s shopping to cater for a family of four. A family who has nothing. Who must go to a foodbank because they cannot afford to put a 29p packet of past on the dinner table for their family!

I’m ashamed because I normally walk around this very store, lumping in anything, without really caring much about the price. Branded beans, luxury cookies, granola with red berries and sun ripened Greek sultanas. I am feeling nauseous.

Together we scan up and down aisles, hunting for value and planning breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Lesley is far more in tune with this, as she’s worked in care for 20 years. She’s buying soap, bleach, sanitary towels, razor and shampoo, thinking of that family and their needs not mine or the things I like to enjoy.

We have a full trolley. It’s piled high and as we get to the check-out desk, I can feel the eyes of all the shopper look at my trolley. Are they judging me, because we look fairly well dress, branded clothes and look ‘well turned out’? Yet everything piled in our trolley is basics, Smartprice or value branded. Will we be the local gossip? I’ve never thought about this ‘stigma’ or the pressure put on shoppers to look and buy the ‘branded’ products to keep up with the Jones’s.

I turn to Lesley and ask her ‘how much do you think this will cost’. I stop myself and think ‘you’re a dick’. I am asking like it’s a TV game show. I know I can afford the shopping, but I don’t put myself in the position of the people we are ultimately trying to help. They arrive at that check-out, fingers-crossed, praying that they have enough cash (not credit cards or debt cards), cash to pay for this week’s shopping. Or worse still they can afford today’s shopping, but this is at the expense of this week’s electricity or heating.

£36.48!

That is what our full trolley of food came to. The boy scout packing our trolley was knackered and still had half of the stuff piled up at the end of the check-out still to put in our trolley.

£36.48!

Lesley and I reckon that was maybe two to three weeks’ worth of food. Three weeks! I bought a Starbucks hot chocolate the other day for my daughter which cost me £3.70 (I did nearly explode) but this is over 10% of the cost of the three-week food shop.

Okay, you get the picture. We truly never understood the relationship between living on the poverty line and the cost of living. How bad are things if you are unable to afford this type of shopping? It’s an eye-opener at this time of year to think of 1 in 5 people being so close to the poverty line in this country when all it takes is £36.48 to do a full shop, put the ‘basics’ on the table each day. When in actual fact there are children going to school without breakfast, having a packet of crisps for dinner.

Falkirk Foodbank

What makes this story even more difficult to swallow, is when we get to the collection point for the Foodbank, there is a branded-up trolley awaiting our transfer of good. The boy scout is still here to help us transfer the good from our trolley to the Foodbank trolley. As our little elf/scout helper starts to decant the food into the Foodbank trolley we notice it is only half full. It’s not overflowing, like our trolley full of unbranded good. It’s got some can, some pasta, some rice, but its basically half full. There’s no staff there manning this busy station wheeling trolley’s back and forth. One trolley half full of groceries.

So, the next time you are in the supermarket, have a look down to the floor and see what Smartprice product you could buy and drop into that trolley on your way out. Four tins of beans for 88p or four tins of chicken soup for 96p. Or fill a basket, a small trolley or a big trolley.

Have a think about this story this week and next, over the Christmas period and maybe give a little something to someone who doesn’t have much or has nothing.

Here is some key links so you can help out not only at Christmas but throughout the year:

https://www.trusselltrust.org/

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/benefits/help-if-on-a-low-income/foodbanks-and-other-help-in-your-area/

BBC1's 'Eat Well For Less?' Teaches Us How To Shop For Food On A Budget

And if you are still interested here is the images that started all this off. Merry Christmas.

Christmas Card