Stephen Jardine: Don’t forget the less fortunate

THE big day approaches. With just a few shopping days left, this weekend promises to be the busiest of the year for retailers.

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

Last-minute present-buying will reach fever-pitch and fridges and cupboards will be crammed to
bursting-point with good things to eat.

Shops are no longer shut for days on end, but there is still something very comforting about this time of plenty and the great feast that lies at its heart.

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The traditional highlight is the turkey, and more than ten million birds will be consumed over the next few weeks. Across the country, there are signs of returning consumer confidence.

Many restaurants are reporting strong Christmas trading, with increased spending per head compared to previous years. Food retailers are also more optimistic. Ten million turkeys will be consumed over the next few weeks and experts predict food and drink sales will be up 4 per cent this Christmas to around £19 billion.

At the top end, that means a bumper festive season for stores like Waitrose, which has reported a big surge in sales of its Heston Blumenthal range.

At the bottom end, however, it’s a very different story. For many children, Christmas dinner this year will come from a food bank. Barnardo’s reports a 94 per cent increase in demand from such organisations this Christmas.

One of the most prominent organisations in the sector is the Trussell Trust. Its Scottish operation has grown from just one food bank to 43 in the last two years. Last year at this time, I reported that they had fed 200,000 people nationwide during 2012. This year that figure reached 350,000.

Rising living and fuel costs, static incomes and changes to benefits are believed to be behind the huge increase in demand for the food banks.

The statistics are sobering, but behind them lie true-life stories.

Mandi turned to food banks to feed her two children at Christmas.

“We were going to eat baked beans for Christmas dinner until our food bank box was delivered,” she said. “It’s so hard to tell your two young children that they can’t have any Christmas presents or a dinner like their friends. The food bank made our Christmas, it was the best we’ve ever had.”

While the rest of us are enjoying the excess, it’s important to remember families that don’t have that option this festive season. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy the feast. Increased food and drink sales will play a key role in helping restore consumer confidence and helping recovery from recession, so we should eat well and make merry.

But as we do that, charities and voluntary organisations will be helping those less fortunate than ourselves and making sure they don’t go hungry. As we enjoy the greatest feast of the year, let’s keep them in our thoughts and help if we can. To them, and all of you, have a very Happy Christmas.