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Christmas can be a tough time when you can’t afford to join in with the traditions others take for granted. Which is why on 23rd December, around 600 volunteers will turn out to make sure families in need don’t go without, as they pack hampers with the key raw ingredients for a Christmas dinner.
Last year the London Basket Brigade – there are Basket Brigades all over the UK – delivered 1,246 packages, containing potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts, stuffing, gravy, mince pies, a Christmas pudding, custard, chocolate, satsumas and of course, a Christmas cracker.
Giles Button, who began volunteering with the charity five years ago and is now its chairman, says he feels “honoured” and “privileged” to be part of the movement. “It’s a great way of giving people hope. It can be a difficult time of year,” he tells HuffPost UK, adding that it’s about saying ‘someone’s thinking about you this time of year’.
The Basket Brigade has been delivering these Christmas hampers for 22 years, and works with around 100 charities, schools and churches who nominate people within the M25 (the motorway circling London).
The majority are families receiving income support, but Giles says they also include elderly people, or children with alcoholic parents. “From doing deliveries myself, I’ve been to a one bedroom flat with three sets of bunk beds in it,” he recalls.
The baskets also go to people like Genny Jones, a single mum and self-employed accountant and happiness coach, from Gravesend, Kent, who was nominated four years ago.
“With a mortgage and job, it can look to the outside world that you’re doing okay,” she says. “But when you’re self-employed, income can fluctuate or dry up completely. And when that happens you’re not eligible for benefits and have nowhere to turn.”
Along with her two sons, now aged 17 and 18, Genny planned to “rummage through the freezer” to make a Christmas lunch from odds and ends, but was thrilled when a basket arrived at her home on 23 December.
It was delivered with a handwritten card that simply said: “Somebody cares – have a good Christmas”, and Genny had no idea where it had come from.
“Even better, when a friend invited me and the boys to her’s for Christmas Day, I immediately passed the basket on to another family, ten doors down, who I knew were struggling,” she says. “The mother was so excited and the children’s faces lit up. That one basket touched so many people.”
The baskets are unbranded and Basket Brigade chooses to keep all nominations anonymous. Although Genny will never know who put her name forward, she found out about the charity and has volunteered every Christmas since.
“That first year, dressed as an elf, I delivered a basket to a house with no carpet. Seeing the sheer delight on their faces brought back so many memories I had to hold back the tears,” she says. “These baskets really do make such a difference.”
London Basket Brigade is just one branch of the huge international Basket Brigade movement, which provides food for an estimated four million people annually. The idea started with the Tony Robbins Foundation in the US, whose founder decided to “pay it forward” after his own family received help from strangers one Thanksgiving.
London Basket Brigade is now fully subscribed for volunteers this year, so you can’t turn up on the day, but the charity is still collecting donations, which will be used to purchase the food and baskets. Each package costs £14 to create and is designed to feed a family of four.
To make a donation or find out more, visit basketbrigade.org.uk.
HumanKind is HuffPost’s celebration of kindness, featuring people who do incredible things for others or the planet – transforming lives through small but significant acts. Get involved by joining us on Facebook. You can also nominate those who deserve to be shouted about by filling in this form or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.