When one thinks of a food bank, one automatically thinks of food, and that is what one donates. But man does not live by bread alone … vulnerable families also need toiletries, and sometimes they need electricity and gas top-ups. The Salvation Army strives to meet all needs, including those that are essential for self-confidence and even self-respect. Your superfluous toiletry gift sets, those tired old stand-by gifts, can have life-changing effects in the right hands.
Carol McKean is the specialist social worker at The Salvation Army in Sheringham, Norfolk. She witnessed a young girl burst in tears after receiving a toiletry gift set in the family’s Christmas hamper because she hoped the fresh, perfumed products would put an end to her being bullied for not smelling ‘nice’.
Carol McKean said, “I’ve seen children getting excited when the food bank Christmas hamper included toothbrushes because they couldn’t remember the last time they had new ones.”
The Salvation Army has a holistic approach
The Salvation Army helps people on several fronts, not just food and shelter. The charity provides training programmes that include life skills and various trades, and employs specialists who uplift at-risk people and families, empowering them to regain control of their lives.
Carol McKean, for example, helps vulnerable people and their families work out their income and expenses, and figure out solutions that can help them make ends meet.
She said, “January sees an increase in people contracting me as we go into the depths of winter and the New Year is a time for important decisions as they are struggling to pay Christmas bills … Nobody wants to rely on a food bank to eat or stay clean but so many families find themselves in severe difficulties due to problems getting help with applying for benefits or getting secure jobs.”
Biggest problem people face
Interestingly, Universal Credit, which is supposed to benefit those in need, can actually put them deeper in debt. This is because it takes five weeks to finalise the move to Universal Credit. That’s five weeks during which they still have to pay bills, feed their children, and keep the gas burning.
To combat this, The Salvation Army has called for the following:
– Faster turnaround so Universal Credit claimants don’t have to wait five weeks for their first payment.
– A national rethink from the Department for Work and Pensions on how it supports people’s mental health, including those experiencing mental ill-health and moving on to Universal Credit.
– A regional rethink from job centres on how to consistently deliver basic support, including access to computers, IT skills training, and advice on budgeting for new claimants.
How you can help
Yes, the food banks do need food, so don’t stop dropping off non-perishables, but consider widening the range to include toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, and those unwanted Christmas gifts, especially the body washes, lotions, and perfume sprays (don’t forget to include gift sets for men).
Commenting on the matter, Lieutenant-Colonel Drew McCombe, The Salvation Army’s Secretary for Mission, said, “Every Christmas, tens of thousands of toiletries gift sets are given as presents. If you have an unwanted gift please don’t leave it in the cupboard or throw it away – get in touch with your local Salvation Army or food bank to see if they could use it.”
You can find your closest Salvation Army branch on the church’s website; you can also find out what a particular branch or food bank needs. You can drop off donations at Salvation Army churches or deposit them at collection points at various supermarkets; you can also drop off donations at partner charities, including the Trussell Trust.