At MK Food Bank, we’ve felt the impact of this unusual year. The number of people needing emergency food parcels has gradually dropped from an all-time high in 2020 but the longer-term financial impacts of the pandemic have contributed to our overall distribution being around 34% higher now than at this point pre-pandemic.
Against this backdrop we conceived the idea for our Message of Hope 2021 initiative. Every year local primary schools collect food donations for us as part of their Harvest Festival celebrations and this year was the biggest ever, with over 360,000 items donated. Harvest is a time of sharing and hope, and some of the children had decorated collection boxes with heartfelt messages that lifted our spirits in these difficult times. When John Lewis PLC donated a huge 12 ft Christmas tree to us this year, we thought of the ideal way to thank the children for their amazing support, and share some much-needed hope and positivity with our community this winter.
The Scrap Store at Milton Keynes Play Association and one of our clever, creative volunteers, Debbie, very kindly cut us out thousands of colourful Christmassy shapes which we sent out to 7 – 11 year olds in our partner schools to write. Schools were then invited to bring a few children each to a series of special events to decorate our tree with their messages and to have hot chocolate, biscuits and festive fun as a thank you for their kindness and generosity at Harvest. Gifts of Christmas lights and decorations from the Reuse Centre and LED candles from Shenley Church End Parish Council turned our warehouse into a winter wonderland and a live pianist created a magical atmosphere with Christmassy songs. The Mayor of Milton Keynes arrived with Father Christmas himself to thank the children personally, and some well-known faces delivered their own messages of hope via video.
Altogether we sent out 5,750 tags – aptly the same as the number of child parcels distributed so far in 2021. Clearly that many tags would not fit on our tree, so we have decorated the walls of our warehouse with many more for all volunteers and visitors to read. Overwhelmingly the messages were positive, hopeful and thought-provoking. While many children are looking forward to gatherings of friends and family that were not allowed last year, others are hopeful that global themes such as climate change, conflict and of course Covid will cease, and that everyone will have the food, warmth and shelter that they take for granted.
Times are still hard and for many, this winter will be tough.
Message of Hope 2021 has however given many of us a positive boost. Charities like ours, supported by our wonderful community, are making a big difference to so many people’s lives by providing food and warmth. It’s my hope that this outpouring of hope will spread out through our community and lead to everyone in Milton Keynes feeling a little more positive this winter.