Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 3

Breakfast was oat pancakes with (the very precious) banana – not entirely successful but we ate them anyway as we are both really hungry. I cracked and made coffee – worryingly, my headache stopped. Coffee was not in my weekly budget, so I have cheated (again). Lunch was very boring. My daughter went to Coop with our remaining 34p to see if she could find anything in the bargain section (preferably a vegetable of some sort) but there was nothing – even an apple cost 40p. There were no loose potatoes and a bag cost 90p. So – rice and lentils for tea again.

I met a friend for a walk after work and we usually have a coffee (from the mobile café in an old horsebox). I have to ask him if him will pay, which is embarrassing. He is fine about it but I wonder how this would feel long term? (He also bought me a flapjack which was marvelous!) I haven’t included coffee in my weekly budget so I can’t even bring a flask of coffee (assuming I have one). I suspect I would feel really ashamed and wonder if I would start to avoid meeting up? Would I start to lose my friendships? This is something that had NEVER occurred to me before… that poverty can cause even greater isolation, at a time when people need each other most. So far, this is the worst thing that I have realised all week, and the one that makes me feel most saddened.

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Pre-covid, Norwich foodbank operated from ‘distribution centres’ where people who have been referred would collect their food parcel and any extras (toiletries, pet food, occasionally fresh items such as end of the day produce from supermarekts). All 10 Norwich foodbank centres (covering Wroxham, Wymondham, Loddon and all areas in between) had free tea, coffee / cold drinks and biscuits and 3 centres also offered a free hot meal, thanks to the church and volunteers for this provision. With specific regards to the meal-sites, lots of people would come for the food parcel at the start of the session and stay til the end – it was somewhere safe and warm and welcoming and, if appropriate and ‘wanted’, plenty of volunteers were around to chat and help and support.

This is something that is missing from the current ‘covid-secure’ delivery model – a phone call referral, a reasonably quick doorstep delivery and that’s it. Not much interaction and little ‘contact’ and we know in this current climate, lonliness at worst can be a killer and at the very least has a big impact on mental health.

Dawn’s comments about meeting up with a friend does remind us once again that for some in our community, they are very isolated and a foodbank delivery might be the only contact they have.

Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 2

Last night wasn’t too bad. I slept really well and wondered if all the carbs and calories helped? (I certainly ate far more of each than I usually do). Or maybe it was drinking less caffeine? I cant say I am very excited about more rice and dahl for dinner but I’m not hungry and the porridge went down well (though we are going to run out of milk soon) – we are actually eating bigger portions than usual to fill us up. I can’t say this is a healthy diet and not one I would recommend for anyone for more than a few days… and really, its only nice because I have a drawer of spices (which is not in the budget, so I’m cheating). I imagine, without this, dinner would be pretty horrible. This must be what our families foodbank users have to live with – eating whatever is available or whatever they are given – and it is a sobering thought.

I told some colleagues at work about this and everyone was really supportive – we talked about how to make food cheaper and I realise how tough/impossible this is… some collective thoughts:

“vegetables are really cheap” I worked out that a veggie curry (vegetables and chickpeas) would cost me about £4.20 to make (with rice) but that thiswould only last us for 2 meals (with me having left overs for lunch) and that has taken up over 40% of my budget…so actually, vegetables are NOT cheap and this only provided food for 2 days, with no breakfast (and no lunch for my daughter). So – it might be a healthy option – but it is not a cheap one.

“you can get some great bargains if you shop around” – this is indeed true but how can you shop around if you don’t have the bus fare or petrol money? Also, many of our foodbank users work, so how can they find the time, never mind the energy and the extra travel cost?

“buying in bulk makes things cheaper” – yes it does, but you can only do this if you have money to start with – and bulk buying is not possible with only £10. And many families end up making tough choices, like feeding their children and not themselves. Pre lockdown, I often stopped to talk to a homeless man in town and he told me he ALWAYS fed his dog before he fed himself (the dog always looked better than him).

The highlight of my day was eating the cupcake my daughters friend gave us yesterday, with a cup of tea, when I got in from work – I think I ate it in 5 seconds flat…. It wasn’t just because the cake was so nice, but because someone had made such a kind gesture.

No pictures the food look exactly the same except there is less cabbage…

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During the pandemic, lots of the foodbank’s donors have asked how they can help in different ways and one ‘extra’ thing the charity has done specifically is to accept fresh donations, in a limited way so as not to waste anything that ‘turns’ and taking into account the heat in the warehouse (usually either freezing or baking!), so just from a few select donors who are known when they will come and what they will bring. Norwich foodbank now receives regular donations of bread from Bread Source, eggs from a local farmer and fresh fruit and veg (potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, cabbage / sprouts) from the Norwich Christadelphians. Not only does this provide at least one more meal alongside the 3-day food parcel, but also some healthy options and an encouragement to cook, which many of those who receive the help say they miss as it feels like a luxury.

As part of the Trussell Trust, Norwich foodbank uses a specific picking list for each food parcel – single, couple, family, etc – and these lists are made in conjunction with a nutritionist to ensure that the 3-days supply of food is nutritionally balanced. While all the items are tins, jars and packets, tinned vegetables and fruit are included but fresh pieces to complement what is given is such a joy.

Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 1

I went shopping and took my daughter along so we could double check the shop. What feels like a challenge rapidly become very anxiety inducing. I made a list and had an extras list in case we were under budget. How different this is to usual, when I just buy what we want and don’t really worry about the cost. We debate the ‘extras’ – shall we buy raisins to liven up the porridge? We don’t have enough. Or more veg? Ditto, not enough. Or something nice to go with our pancakes? We settle on 3 bananas. I have a car, so we go to Aldi (where we usually go) but I can see that, if I had to walk to the local Coop, my shop would be much more expensive… The poor, as we know, pay more.

Our total food cost is £9.64 for the week but with almost no vegetables (a cabbage, ½ cauliflower and 3 bananas). The rice and lentil portions look worryingly small (100g lentils and 200g rice a day seemed a lot but it actually isn’t). Syrup was too expensive, so we have sugar instead and lemon juice in a bottle (as it was cheaper than a real lemon).

So far, it’s not been too bad, though mostly because I ate 3 biscuits at work and had 2 cups coffee and then my best friend brought me cake for lunch (as she knew I was doing this). And then, someone sent my daughter birthday cupcakes (10 days late but very much welcomed!) and we had 1 each with a cup of tea. We plan to have another one while listening to Boris Johnson tonight.

Our menu for the week is:

Breakfast – porridge with sugar (raisons, fruit and syrup are out as too expensive)

Lunch – for me, leftovers: for my daughter – bagels with baked beans or spaghetti hoops (no margarine or vegan cheese – way too expensive).

Dinner – rice and dahl with cabbage every single night – we can stretch to potato or cauliflower fritters on 2 or 3 nights if I am careful.

Pudding – vegan pancakes (to cheer us up) with sugar and lemon (no fruit). We don’t usually eat pudding but flour is cheap and I don’t want my daughter to feel hungry.

Drinks – tea with milk or lemon juice. No coffee, no herb tea or rooibos (my usual favourite).

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Norwich foodbank receives referrals every day from people who say they are completely on their own with no friends or family to ask for help or who have exhausted these options due to family and friends personal constraints or embarrassment at needing to ask for help ‘again’. Our communities are so different from previous generations when people knew their neighbours and whole street and you could just pop round to ask for a bit of food or company or whatever was needed, because chances were you would do the same in return if / when needed. But currently, regardless of lockdown, this just rarely happens and so many people are genuinely alone and not known and worringly, the charity expects there are even more ‘hidden’ people in need who aren’t receiving their or any other support.

Dawn Lent 2021 – Shop

We decided we would make it vegan for the week – we are vegetarians but do mostly eat vegan food as my daughter is allergic to dairy. This means I had to have a serious think about what we could afford… If I buy vegetables, there is almost no protein and nothing that would really fill us up, so I’m prioritising rice and lentils – and vegetables depending on what we have left over. I realise that this is going to get really boring really quickly… and, contrary to popular myth, vegetables are NOT cheap. I’m starting to feel a bit desperate already and it all starts to look pretty bleak.

I have tried to chivvy my daughter along, but she is already grumbling about not being allowed to have beer or pizza on Friday night. I feel pretty miserable. How bloody awful this is for people who have to live like this all the time – and especially in lockdown.

I am going to cheat a bit and use the ½ cauliflower we have in fridge and spices I have in the drawer and homemade lemon pickle that I make with left over lemon peel last week.

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Norwich foodbank often receives bulk donations of items such as 5kg of pasta, 5l of oil and catering packs of teabags and the cahrity aren’t able to split them down. However, support is available through community kitchens who make mass meals such as FoodCycle and some churhces – not all are open due to current restricitons – but it’s great to be able to support them with donations and use the items that are far too big for most of the households we serve.

What can be tricky sometimes is the lack of knowledge or confidence in ‘cooking’ and so lentils and pulses and other items are sometimes just not known or understood by those we serve, so it’s a joy to hear from people who say ‘I love to cook’ or ‘do you have…’ and if we can say ‘yes’ it’s lovely to know these items will be used and appreciated and enjoyed alongside the food parcel.

Live on £1 a Day: Hannah Day 4

I got up late today for 3 reasons: 1, it’s Saturday and I don’t have to be up for work; 2, it was a late night and I ached when I got home so I just wanted a little longer to rest; and 3, I wasn’t looking forward to breakfast or getting through the whole day without a cup of tea or any snacks (aside from carrot sticks…) and so I wanted to delay the inevitable (the later I have breakfast, the later I can have lunch, etc).

Breakfast

I decided to put a teaspoon or so of blackcurrant squash to my porridge and it made a massive difference to the flavour and it was much nicer to eat. It made it a weird grey colour, but the taste was so much nicer so that will definitely be happening again tomorrow.

The post arrived and I was faced with my Graze box (total luxury I know) which taunted me by declaring ‘You’re so close to tasty snacks’ on the box… I am, only two days left.

Lunch

My last cuppa soup – the packet only had 4 in so it will be pasta for 2 meals tomorrow – and hot blackcurrant during the afternoon. I went out during the morning and wasn’t back til about 1pm which was helpful to delay lunch. I didn’t feel too hungry during the morning which was a surprise as it’s a different routine at the weekend, but the porridge has kept me full every morning which has been great.

I saved my carrot peelings from yesterday and put them on kitchen paper to dry, as I’d read ages ago that potato peelings can be saved, dried and baked to make crisps. And I thought all vegetable peelings must therefore work…! I was sort of right – they crisped up beautifully, but part of this meant they were burnt so the flavour was a little charred. Nice to have a different texture though and to try something with what is otherwise just put in the food bin.

Tea

I’ve almost run out of different combinations, so today was pasta with baked beans, tomatoes and sardines which I’m still enjoying generally (tasty and hot), other that the monotony of dinnertime.

We’re out for drinks with friends tonight which I had forgotten when planning the timeframe of this 5 day period, but I’m not going to totally ‘cheat’ on m £1. My plan is to have soda water all night which, if not free is certainly cheap and my reason is that I can’t buy my friends a drink so I’m not expecting them to buy me any. If I was being true to the Live on £1 a Day, I would forgo the evening out. My excuses for not doing that are that I’m the driver, but I’m also actually looking forward to going out and not being tempted by the food I have in my house. Not great excuses I know so it’s not as realistic as I hoped I could be. If I was invited out for lunch / a coffee / etc when I was on such a tight budget, I would of course have to refuse as I wouldn’t want to assume someone would pay for and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay for myself, let alone them as well.

People I meet at foodbank and those I hear about from volunteers, say that a big issue for those who live on a tight budget / limited income, is isolation. And it’s been reported in the last year at least that loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking.

At Norwich foodbank, 3 of our 10 distribution centres offer a free hot meal at the same time as the foodbank session, with 1 of these being a free community meal, open to anyone to attend. People come for the food of course, but many for the company and FoodCycle, a national charity that uses food waste to create a free meal for the community, report similar findings that the food is sometimes secondary to being with others.

If you would like to get involved and support our work, especially with the community meals as extra help is needed at the moment, please do get in touch with the office by email: admin@norwich.foodbank.org.uk or call 01603 251733 and ask for Hannah.