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‘Reverse advent calendar’ idea supports food bank users in Kirkstall and Burley

By Louis Chapman-Coombe

Volunteers at a food bank covering Kirkstall are running a ‘reverse advent calendar’ scheme to provide people with festive cheer this Christmas. 

The food bank, based in St Andrew’s Church, Butcher Hill, provides a service for the LS5 (Kirkstall and Burley), LS6 and LS16 areas.

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A reverse advent calendar encourages people to give an item of food a day towards a festive hamper, which is then given out to people who need support.

Cherie Cartwright, church warden of St Andrew’s Church said: “It came about during Covid, when people couldn’t get out and about but wanted to contribute to the upkeep of the foodbank.

“So what my daughter decided to [do was] make a reverse advent calendar and put down each day something that was needed in the foodbank.”  

Ms Cartwright added that during the pandemic, they organised this via leaflets out into the local community, where volunteers would contact the foodbank to offer support. 

Ms Cartwright also said that the reverse advent calendar was started to give out Christmas hampers for families to have a Christmas dinner. She said that the hampers contained “all the extras that they couldn’t afford to buy that were put in the hampers and that’s how the advent calendar came about.”

This scheme is still running now, with volunteers prepping this year’s hampers next week ready for Christmas.  

Ms Cartwright said that 118 food parcels a week are being sent out over the three postcodes that the foodbank services.

Cllr Hannah Bithell (Lab, Kirkstall), who is also one of the helpers at the foodbank, said: “I can’t get across just how dire the need is at this point.”

These food parcels cost £26 each to produce, and this week alone, the foodbank has sent out over £3,000 worth of food to those in need. 

The cost of living crisis has had a massive impact on the operation at St Andrews Church. Ms Cartwright said: “Our biggest hurdle is that during Covid the government were throwing money at us to help people, to get food out there. Now there’s no money for third sector…we’re having to fundraise, we’re having to use our councillors to fundraise”.

Cllr Bithell said that the foodbank had raised £350 on their GoFundMe page.

Cllr Bithell also explained how the volunteers at St Andrew’s have had to be creative in securing donations. 

She said that they want to make it “as easy as possible to donate with as little effort as possible”. The first of which was done via the community. She added: “In the middle of winter, we did our doorstep collection. We requested addresses on Facebook. People volunteer to have a green tray in their garden and then I publicise over the weekend ‘don’t forget to drop food in those’, and we had a really good uptake.”

Cllr Bithell also explained how they created a shopping list of five items needed for the foodbank and gave it to people going into Morrisons, which was a great success for the foodbank. 

Morrisons is a big part of the donations received to St Andrew’s, with 70% of the food parcels coming from two stores, the store in Kirkstall and the store in Horsforth. 

Ms Cartwright added that “it is all purely donation-run” and that all of the funds come directly from members of the Kirkstall community. 

If you wish to donate to the foodbank at St Andrew’s Church, click here to visit their GoFundMe page

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