Wednesday 14 February 2018

The Trussell Trust Adlent Calendar

I first met a rep from the indefatigable Trussell Trust when I still shopped at Sainsburys, other supermarkets are available, before my ailing back necessitated home-deliveries. Outside the front entrance a Trussell volunteer asked ‘Would you mind buying one extra tin of food in addition to your usual shop today? And donate it here?’
            ‘Of course. It’s a good idea,’ said I.
            ‘We teach the foodbank users how to budget, how not to run out of food and make the best choices for nutritious, inexpensive meals. We don’t just give them food without some guidance.’
              I didn’t care about this last, as such. If people are hungry a sense of urgency is needed. Food is what they need, and without delay.
            I do know of some, however, who have complained that food bank users have mobile phones and smoke fags. So what? If I had no food to eat and was worn down by a continual lack of funds, reduced benefits, unemployment and poor housing I’d likely find refuge in a smoke.
            The Trussell Trust has produced an excellent Adlent calendar, which starts today, Ash Wednesday.  For people such as I, unsure, sometimes, what to donate, it’s a checklist of 40 items required by food banks in the run up to Easter. It is easy to save one item, such as tinned fruit, every day for the next 40 days over Lent.
In my slipped-disc state a food-shop delivery is essential and I set about an online order on Monday evening. I would incorporate items for the food bank in my list. Easy.
           However by 3:00am that night I had already changed the delivery day and time four times. I had gone through the thirty-plus items I wanted to add to my donations box, felt happy with what I’d ordered, then reconsidered. If I were hungry would I really want all my items wrapped in the same packaging from the cheaper ranges? Did I really want my bathroom essentials to be in the same wrapping as rice, biscuits, long life milk and so on? Wouldn’t I want, when my cupboard was bare, to have something prettily-wrapped to look at?
            By 4:00am I had reordered most of the items I was going to donate and found myself feeling mean. Why should the impoverished do with the cheapest range of biscuits and tinned vegetables? Didn’t they need freshly baked bread and fresh fruit? I was, in my over-tired state, trying hard to empathise with folk who can’t afford to put food in their cupboards nor in their fridge. But I found I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I would feel to be handed a bag of ‘basic rice’ rather than something more exciting. If I were hungry how much would it matter?
           By 5:00 am I had taken pain killers for my back, switched off my lap top and had decided to stop worrying about making food donations. The Trussell Trust have made a list for a reason.They know what’s needed.I certainly don’t, it seems.

In my prep for my second novel ‘The Keys to Peace’, which opens in 1939, I have been looking at Holocaust survivor testimonies. I will also be using my father’s war-time diaries and my aunts’ memories of the black-out in the Midlands for the main beats of the novel. A Jewish escapee from Nazism is part of the plot. In addition to the above reading I have watched the film ‘The Relief of Belsen’, as dad was part of the liberating army which witnessed the horrors of the camp,and the typhus,at the end of the war.
As the film ‘Schindler’s List’ closes, the saviour of 1100 Jews breaks down and wonders whether he’d done enough. He felt he should have done more, and saved, maybe, another thousand from the gas chambers. In the ‘Relief of Belsen’consultants said that what made women feel more like human beings, after the ravages of the ghetto, the camps, humiliations, starvation, constant fear and illness had diminished them, was a simple tube of lipstick. Someone gently applying lipstick to their lips and giving them colour was the faltering beginning of recovery for someone who wasn’t already too ill or dying.

Yesterday  I returned to my online food order and stopped worrying whether I should order more chocolate bunnies for children who hadn’t enjoyed chocolate in recent weeks. I stopped worrying about what size nappies to order, whether for new-borns or five month-olds, and bought jars of baby food for a four-month old and an eight-month old. I stopped worrying whether I should order fresh daffodils for the food bank users. Flowers brighten up people’s lives, but it’s not what the Trussell Trust are asking for. I remember a film by, I think, Bill Douglas, where an impoverished woman, his gran, has displayed some grass bank-picked flowers in an old cup. She has nothing. They are her little luxury.She warms her cold hands on a hot cup.There's no tea in it, just hot water for warmth.

            Later today my supermarket delivery will arrive. When my back allows I’ll pack the essentials for donating to our nearest foodbank, and add a box of non-basic chocolates, and wonder whether to include a tube of lipstick, and then wonder what shade. And I know, whatever I donate, I will think I should have done more.

Which is another reason why the Trussell Trust do such a good job.