Banking on kindness

Linsey Wynton explains how a little generosity can solve more problems than one

Eat or Heat donations

Luca and Leo prepare to take their ‘birthday presents’ to Eat or Heat foodbank in Walthamstow

As the number of children and families replying on food banks increases, Linsey Wynton tells how her twin boys decided to collect for a local food bank – instead of receiving birthday presents

If you ask my twin boys Luca and Leo what they got for their 6th birthday, they’ll say: “Toilet roll, baked beans and pasta”. They’ll also recall the cereal, soup, cooking oil, coffee, washing up liquid and nappies that they asked their friends to bring instead of gifts – all to be donated to Walthamstow food bank, Eat or Heat.

Leo and Luca are in different class at school and both wanted to invite all 29 of their class-mates to their sixth birthday party! They didn’t want anyone to be left out.

I know many parents would insist on choosing a few close friends. My husband and I had never been brave enough to host a party for 60 kids before. But we decided to risk inviting the lot!

So we booked the local cricket club and a magician called Markhele, who makes doves appear from balloons, crossing our fingers that his act would work wonders in terms of crowd control.

Our next worry was gifts. Potentially each twin could get a present from each guest – meaning there would be 116 gifts in total! Our house is pretty cluttered and we knew we’d struggle with where to put such a present mountain and we also knew the boys would be quite indulged if that happened. So we decided asking for donations for a good cause would be best.

Leo and Luca are very caring and have always been drawn to people who are struggling. I remember taking them age 4 to Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and seeing they were more interested in why there were so many people sleeping on the streets outside and what we could do to help them. Similarly at the National Gallery they were more absorbed by befriending a homeless street artist who often draws on the pavement in Trafalgar Square.

We considered asking for donations to a charity. But the idea of the food bank came about because giving food is visual – there was something real for all the kids to see, as opposed to virtual online donations. Plus four million people now rely on foodbanks, according to a recent survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and a million families have had to cut children’s portion sizes to get by in our tough economic climate.

Not only that, but some children cannot go to parties, either at all or very often, because of the cost of bringing presents.

We felt our idea did not exclude anyone – no-one had to write their name on what they’d brought, so parents could just bring a tin or a packet, while others could bring heavy-duty carrier bags bulging full of food!

As soon as the invitations went out, responses were overwhelmingly positive and a few children who could not make it brought food parcels into school. The day was hugely successful. Our magician was mesmerising – and we ended up with two trestle tables covered in bags of dried and canned foods – from baby food to biscuits, soap to spaghetti and teabags to tins of tuna – with more bags and boxes stuffed underneath.

The boys were lucky enough to get a few unexpected gifts from their close friends and stacks of beautiful cards with the sweetest hand-written messages full of phonetic spellings of “Leeow” and “Looka”. And they were so delighted to have spent the time with their friends, they were not in any way disappointed.

We had so many donations for Eat or Heat that we have to leave them in the cricket club cellar overnight. The next day it took three big blokes to pack our people carrier, leaving just enough room for me, Luca and Leo and their big brother Raphy to squeeze in! When we arrived at Eat or Heat the boys could not wait to carry the bags in. Laden down, and staggering along, they knew they were doing something important!

When they told the Eat or Heat volunteers about their party and what they had done, some were moved to tears.

The boys felt really proud as they helped unpack the goodies. It was an amazing feeling that they could never have experienced unless they had given like this.

A few days later they each received an Eat or Heat T-shirt in the post and a medal. They didn’t expect anything, but it was so nice for them to have their efforts noticed. They took these into school and showed them at the recent Harvest Assembly. Afterwards we found out that they had inspired school staff to run an advent donation event for Eat or Heat!

I hope their efforts might inspire other parents who’re fed up being inundated with plastic at parties or who just don’t want their kid/s feeling too entitled.

For more information about the Eat or Heat foodbank:
Visit eatorheat.org

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