Suffolk Baby Bank calls for donations in run-up to Christmas
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Food banks across the county have seen a huge increase in the number of referrals they’ve been receiving - but where do you turn to when you’ve got a baby to feed, or need nappies?
Suffolk Baby Bank has been helping families throughout the county for over seven years now, and founder Klaire Peck says she has seen a surge in the amount of people turning to her for help due to the pandemic – with the run-up to Christmas proving especially hectic.
“It’s 400% more this year than any other year previously,” she says.
“A lot of those are people who have been self-employed, or on low income anyway, and they’ve been made redundant, taken a pay or have had to apply for Universal Credit – and that’s just not bridging the gap between their rent or bill payments. Families are then left without any funds for food or winter fuel.”
The team at Suffolk Baby Bank has therefore found itself working tirelessly around the clock to help ensure families across the county are able to feed, clothe and look after their young children.
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“We have a core service, which is food parcels filled with baby essentials – so things like baby food, baby milk, nappies, wipes, and baby bath. Basically, all of the essentials that are high turnover consumables. We also do bundles of clothing.”
In addition, Klaire and her volunteers work closely with local assessment officers and shelters, ensuring mothers who are being rehomed after leaving a shelter or going into temporary accommodation can suitably furnish their new homes.
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“We have our home bundles, which are age and room-specific, so if a little boy needs curtains, bedding and a bed, we can supply those. We also provide kitchen and homeware essentials.”
But with 738 families on its books, and no annual fundraising events this year due to lockdown, how has the team been able to get ready for the Christmas surge just around the corner?
“When we reopened our doors in August, we had 30 tonnes of donations to go through. So much was dropped off, which is great, but we were still struggling. The East of England Co-op gave us a substantial amount of vouchers, which enables us not only to do shopping for the food parcels, but also to give our families a designated voucher, which we work out based on family size.
“That way, they can have the vouchers and do their own shopping – it promotes good mental health and allows the families to regain control over the situation themselves. There’s nothing worse than getting a food parcel and there’s nothing in it for your children - kids don’t eat what’s in front of them at the best of times.”
Other businesses that have stepped up include local branches of Morrisons, Waitrose, Dunelm and Tesco, all providing food or funds for the charity.
“As all of our charity auctions have been cancelled, one of our ladies recently raised £400 for us and did a Christmas fundraiser raffle last week. Local businesses all responded to her and gave her prizes. We had over 30 prizes donated in the first few days, which is absolutely lovely.
“Christmas is known as a time of excess, but for these families, all they want are food and gifts for their children. We’ve had donations of Christmas trees and decorations, so those families who are starting again can feel settled and make it as festive as possible.”
The baby bank – which is currently in the process of boxing up Christmas food parcels – also provides a much-needed lifeline for families throughout the festive period.
“All of the support services run reduced hours, so there will be lots of families who won’t be able to access the food bank for a good 10 days. So, if a family hasn’t got food and is worrying about how to stretch out a bag of pasta for a week, we provide additional food support bundles which includes all of the extra Christmas bits. Tesco in Bury, Asda in Stowmarket and Morrisons in Ipswich have all donated selection boxes, so we’re able to make them a bit more festive.
“Some of our families might not have the spare funds to buy chocolate for their children, let alone a gift, so making sure they’ve got food to bridge that gap until the services open again in the New Year is really crucial.”
But it’s not just physical support that the baby bank provides – and sometimes, a friendly chat is just as necessary.
“Covid has been such a challenge for everyone, but especially mums. As we’re not a service attached to social services, we’re impartial, and it means we can often have a better rapport with the families we work with. What we’ve found here in Suffolk is that having someone to speak to is a huge help in itself.
“Most of us are parents, and some of the volunteers are my own daughters, so for the younger mums especially who are first-time parents, the fact they’re able to speak to another 17 or 18-year-old who understands that generationally pressure and relates to them can be just what they need.”
With a team of helpers behind her, Klaire is just as thankful for the local community, who has stepped up during lockdown, and are continuing to help ensure that families across Suffolk can enjoy Christmas this year.
“Suffolk is just amazing, and we could not do what we do without the support of our local areas. From businesses to other families, it’s been great. There’s not been a single village we’ve worked in that's not inundated us with offers of help and support – it's been one of the few beautiful things to come out of Covid.
“We’re a very ‘throw it away’ society, and we’re massive consumers, so it’s amazing when we have families who we’ve previously supported with clothes, Moses baskets and prams offer to bring them back to us. We’re often on our seventh or eighth time sending a pram out and having it come back to us, as it’s been so well-looked after.
“Even though everyone’s got so little at the moment, and we’re all taking a hit, people are still giving where they can. Whether it’s buying a pack of nappies, or offering time to help us at one of our hubs, they’re all invaluable contributions.”
To find out more about Suffolk Baby Bank, to donate or to volunteer, visit the website.