By Jack Goodman
FAMILIES IN poverty in South Leeds are being offered a Christmas hamper to make the festive period more enjoyable.
Health visitors from Parkside Community Health Centre in Beeston are preparing Christmas hampers to support families struggling financially over the Christmas period.
The movement began 14 years ago when Christine Thornton, a health worker who has since retired, saw a woman in a supermarket on Christmas Eve struggling to afford to buy presents for her children.
“After I saw the woman in the supermarket with her children, I couldn’t stop thinking about her all over Christmas,” said Mrs Thornton. “When I went back to work after my couple of days off, I decided we needed to do something about it.”
A study by End Child Poverty found that 42% of children in Leeds were living in poverty in 2015 after housing costs – the seventh highest parliamentary constituency for child poverty levels in the UK.
“The only criteria we have is that families have children old enough to eat proper food,” Mrs Thornton added. “Big families with around six to eight children get two hampers to make sure there’s enough to feed everyone.
“The idea of ensuring people have enough food to enjoy the festive period is what Christmas is all about really.”
Rachel Smith has been in charge since Mrs Thornton retired.
She said: “We fundraise throughout the year to try to raise enough money to provide 100 hampers for families who we know are struggling in the South Leeds area.”
The health visitors involved decide which families to offer the hampers to – after working with them throughout the year.
“They aren’t hampers in the ‘wicker basket’ sense of the word,” Mrs Smith added. “They’re made up of food to provide a Christmas dinner and to put some tins in the cupboards.
“It’s not much when you compare it to what a lot of people spend on their Christmas food shop, but it really makes a difference for these families.”
Coun Angela Gabriel (Lab, Beeston and Holbeck) praised the health visitors’ work.
“There’s lots of volunteers in South Leeds, with foodbanks and other ways of helping those in need,” she said.
“It’s just a crying shame that we’re having to resort to methods like these.”
The health visitors involved will buy the food on Friday 23 December with the money raised, before packing it into hampers and distributing it to the chosen families.