'All we do is think about our kids': How proud parents are going without to feed their children this Christmas

At least 36 per cent of children live in poverty in Leicester, but these parents, with the help of our Christmas appeal, are determined to give their children a fighting start

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Saturday 23 December 2017 16:11 GMT
Help A Hungry Child: Independent teams up with The Felix Project to tackle food poverty

Nicola Allen Jones is proud of her weekly shop. The single mother-of-six has spent just £60 – 40p per person per meal – to feed her large family this Christmas.

The 32-year-old lives in inner-city Leicester, where at least 36 per cent of children live in poverty. But she is determined to give her children a bright future – and makes significant sacrifices to do so.

“I make ends meet because I have to. I have to go without so I can provide for these,” she said. “I don’t buy myself anything.”

Ms Allen Jones used to receive Healthy Start vouchers from the Government, allowing her to buy subsidised fruit, vegetables and milk. But now that her youngest is over four, she is no longer eligible.

“I’ve got a big family, it’s not exactly cheap,” she said. “Coming up to Christmas time, I just can’t buy anything. I have to budget what I can spend, and food-wise I really have to limit myself.”

The strain has become more acute since her nine-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD two months ago, leaving her unable to work.

“We have to work around him, he has lots of appointments with the paediatrician and I have to be on standby if he is kicking off at school, I have to be there to collect him because he can’t put himself and others at risk or in danger,” she said. “It is a big strain.”

Ms Allen Jones’ six-year-old daughter, Summer, attends Hazel Community Primary School, the first school outside of London helped by The Independent’s Christmas appeal.

The Felix Project, this year’s chosen charity, set up a market stall at the school, where children and their parents were able to help themselves to fresh, nutritious produce that would otherwise have been sent to landfill as they left to go home at the end of the day.

The scheme allowed Ms Allen Jones and Summer to bring a bag of groceries home with them on the last day of term, to help ease the considerable financial pressure they are facing this Christmas.

“I think it’s a great idea, especially with the price of fruit and veg going up,” Ms Allen Jones said. “When I go shopping now, it’s £2 a pack for oranges, I have to buy two packs of each fruit because I have such a big family, so it really mounts up.

“I do have to limit the amount of fruit and veg I can buy. I’ve had to. Now I only buy one pack of each. It just works out really expensive.”

Another parent, Sana Abbad, who has three children at the school, said the produce she was able to pick up definitely helped her provide for her family, but she was quick to add: “But I’m not saying we struggle, other people can’t earn, they can’t work here, they are on asylum, they can’t buy a lot of things.”

Zahra, 8, Mohammed, 7, and Aleeza, 3, are pupils at Hazel Community Primary School (Lucy Pasha-Robinson) (Lucy Pasha-Robinson/Independent)

As long as her husband, who works as a forklift driver, is earning, their children will not want for anything, she said.

“We don’t say to our kids ‘we don’t have money to buy this’, because as long as we are earning, we will provide for them,” she said. “We don’t want to keep money in the bank, we will spend it to buy them food. We are earning for them.”

Year Two teacher Andrew Lintern said often the parents here are too proud to ask for help, despite struggling on low wages to provide for their families.

He said rising food prices forced many parents into buying cheaper food. “They are quite proud parents here so they won’t necessarily complain about it but definitely there are families here who struggle to provide enough food,” he said.

Khalid Iqbar, whose daughters Marukh, 10, and Zahra, 6, attend Hazel Primary, compares food prices online before going shopping to see which supermarkets have the best deals on.

“To be honest, it is not a hobby, but I want to provide for my kids, I have four children, they need so many things, so that’s why I think about how I can do that within my budget,” he said.

He has had to become more frugal since an accident in 2013 damaged his memory and left him unable to keep his job as a ticket inspector for British Rail.

“So often my children want something but I don’t have the money so I have to tell them ‘next month’,” he said.

Khalid Iqbar with his daughters Marukh and Zahra (Hazel Community Primary School)

“As their mother and father, all we do is think about our kids. When I go to do the shopping, I try and think about the quality, I just have to take smaller quantities.”

He believes the stall will be “very helpful” in alleviating some of the pressure parents here are under.

“Every second person here, they need help, but they might not say it,” he said.

As many as 500,000 children go to school hungry each day across the country. That’s why this paper has chosen to support The Felix Project to help those families living on the breadline.

The charity has been working since 2016 to fight hunger with leftover in-date produce that would otherwise have been destined for landfill, responding to the twin demons of food poverty and food surplus.

Every £1 donated will ensure a primary school child and their family has the food needed for a nutritious meal. £500 will enable a new school to be recruited to the programme.

Here are the ways you can donate to our Christmas appeal:

Call – Freephone – 08000 639 281

Text – FELIX £5 to 70700

Click – independent.co.uk/helpahungrychild

Post – Freepost – HELP A HUNGRY CHILD

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