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Give the gift of a lifeline to those facing hardship during a second Covid Christmas

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St Giles Trust needs your help to provide 50,000 meals to desperate people reeling from job losses and the end of the furlough scheme.

Some aided by the charity exist on just £3 a day.

The trust has been there for those hit by disasters – be it homelessness, domestic abuse, long-term unemployment or exploitation by criminal gangs – for more than 50 years.

Just £5 will help feed a family for five days, while £25 can provide one-to-one support. But the essential extra in every St Giles basket is care and advice.

Charity patron, actress Jenny Agutter, 69, said: “I think people in this country are extremely good at making the very best of a bad situation and, much like the people at St Giles, can turn adversity into positivity.”

St Giles helps nearly 30,000 people across the UK… and is in increasing demand. Many have lost businesses through the pandemic and fallen into debt, while others have struggled with their health since developing Covid.

Another growing issue is the battle to pay bills while working.

The financial outlook is poor for 83 percent of the 3.4 million households receiving Universal Credit (UC), according to research by Bristol University for abrdn Financial Fairness Trust.

Figures show nearly three times as many working households receiving UC – 42 percent compared with 15 percent of all working-age families – struggle to pay for food and/or bills.

Twice as many are forced to borrow to pay for essentials, making it nearly impossible to meet the cost of Christmas.

In times like this, people turn to charities like the St Giles Trust and its unique food hubs.

Its network of Pantries – two in London, one in Leeds and one in Coventry – provide both an immediate safety net and a way out of poverty within six months.

The Pantry is no ordinary food bank. For many, it is a lifeline. Volunteers help people, who pay £3.50 a week, choose nutritious food and plan family meals.They also help them to cook properly and budget for the week ahead.

Rob Owen, CEO of St Giles, which delivered 83,000 meals to 700 people in the first lockdown, said: “Some of our clients are living off as little as £3 a day.

Others are working cripplingly long hours in the gig economy just to put enough food on the table for their families.

“On average, our clients are facing up to a 25 percent drop in weekly income due to the Universal Credit reduction. This is an appalling situation facing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Another blow to already hardpressed budgets is soaring inflation, which pushes up household bills. The latest consumer price inflation figures show it is 5.1 percent, up from 4.2 percent in October – the highest since it hit 5.2 percent in September 2011.

Department of Work and Pensions figures show a 128 percent rise in households affected by the benefit cap since last February. The average cap was £54 a week, or £234 a month.

Jon Sparkes, of charity Crisis, said: “We cannot leave thousands facing impossible decisions this Christmas – forced to pick between keeping a roof over their head, putting the heating on or keeping food on the table.”

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‘It’s a one-stop for all kinds of help’

CLAIR Blair found herself at the Leeds Pantry of St GilesTrust in the run-up to last Christmas.

She was no longer working as a security guard and was struggling to navigate the benefit system in order to pay her rent and other bills.

Clair describes the charity as a “life-saver” after Engage Leeds Housing Support recommended it to the 50-year-old, who lives in the Chapeltown area of the city.

She now volunteers for St GilesTrust and said: “The service is not the normal food bank where you walk in and leave with a bag of groceries.

“I pay £3.50 a week for food worth about £20, which I can choose, and if you need help with meal plans and cooking, there are people to help. But it’s not just about the food. It’s a one-stop shop for all kinds of help. I had to claim benefits but it was a nightmare. Everything had to be done online and I had no computer or smartphone.

“I was also trying to better myself by doing an NVQ and that moved online too. But St Giles Trust got me a tutor.”

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‘I was jobless and living on porridge’

JACKIE Sanderson was alone, had a poor diet and no job when Covid struck.

The 61-year-old used to work in the kitchens of a care home but ill health and depression forced her to resign.

She had little money for food after paying her rent, but her life changed when she found St GilesTrust in June last year.Volunteers and staff helped her to get back on her feet.

The mother of two, from Coventry, said: “Being out of work I found it hard to buy food so I was just living on my evening meals: porridge and cereal. I was not eating well. I was not healthy and it became a problem. I was always wondering, ‘what am I going to eat today?’

“I had no money and was struggling so much. I was at rock bottom when someone at Citizen Housing put me in touch with St Giles food bank. It was marvellous.

“The food is really good and I was helped to shop and choose healthy food.

“Now I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables when I would never have it before. It changed my life.The staff are incredible. I recommend it to anyone, it’s like a second home to me.”

Ms Sanderson, who has a granddaughter aged 16 months, has now completed a course on how to cook healthy food on a budget, incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables into her meals.

Staff at the charity also gave her employment advice and coached her for job interviews.

She starts as a catering housekeeper at a local mental health hospital in the new year. Jackie added: “I’m delighted. I need the money as my Universal Credit was cut by £20 a week in October. However I’ll make that money back and more. I’m very grateful.”

HOW TO DONATE

£100 – Could provide over 450 meals with wraparound support for families in need.

£50 – Could provide life-saving mentoring to a young person.

£25 – Could help provide one-to-one practical and emotional support.

£5 – Could help feed a family for five days.

ONLINE www.stgilestrust.org.uk/support-us/

BY CHEQUE Payable to St Giles Trust

BANK TRANSFER To make a bank transfer, please contact: fundraising @stgilestrust.org.uk

BY TEXT Text PANTRY to 70460 to donate £5. Texts cost £5 plus one standard-rate message

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COMMENT BY JENNY AGUTTER

I STARTED supporting St Giles in 2008 when I could see the lifeline they offered some of the most vulnerable people in my local community.

When all other services shut their doors, St Giles was there to offer practical support, helping people address the underlying factors which were preventing them from moving forwards.

Today, my local community has changed but St Giles continues to support people who fall through the cracks. The charity helps nearly 16,000 people across the UK – families and individuals affected by minimum wage, zero-hours contract work, redundancy, crippling poverty, homelessness and mental health issues.

Through its Pantry and other services, it provides emergency help with food, clothing and other basics.

Crucially, longer-term support is also offered through the St Giles Peer Advisors.

The trained advisors have a deeper understanding of how to tackle problems as they have dealt with many themselves.

The St Giles stories are heartbreaking. One carer was using the Pantry because she lost her job after Covid claimed the lives of all her clients.

But no matter how bleak things seem, there is always a way forward and St Giles is there to show people this.

It is tough for us all at the moment, with the pandemic showing no sign of abating.

Please help St Giles help others. By doing so you will have a direct positive impact on someone’s life this Christmas and beyond.

  • Jenny Agutter – Actress and Patron of St Giles

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COMMENT BY ROB OWEN

IN THE words of one of our colleagues, Olu, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

This year will be very special as – in contrast to the last – we will be able to spend Christmas with our families and friends. However, Olu said these words in a bittersweet manner.

She details the hardships that her clients and those of her colleagues are battling against in the face of rising fuel and food prices and reductions in disposable income.

Some of our clients are living off as little as £3 a day. Others are working cripplingly long hours in the gig economy to put enough food on the table for their family.

Our team has calculated that on average our clients are facing up to a 25 percent drop in weekly income due to the recent reduction in Universal Credit.

Many are facing stark choices between heating and eating.

This is an appalling situation facing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Next year will be St Giles’s 60th anniversary. Looking back, it has struck me that people have the same fundamental needs today as they had in 1962 – emergency food, shelter, companionship and advice. Today, we not only help with emergency needs but also offer a sustainable route out of poverty and dependence.

People using our network of Pantries are able to shop for healthy, nutritious food in return for a small weekly subscription whilst benefiting from advice and guidance from our Peer Advisors.

These are people who have overcome adversity and hardship and are now professionally trained by us to offer help and support to others.

They identify and address the underlying issues keeping people in the poverty trap – long-term unemployment or poorly paid employment, homelessness, mental and physical health problems and a range of other issues prevalent in 2021 Britain.

By offering intensive, patient support and guidance we help people build the skills and confidence to move towards decent employment and independence.

Our Pantries are supported by loyal and valued partners who help us with food supplies and logistics. However, they could not survive without the generous help of donations from ordinary members of the public like Daily Express readers.

Just a small donation can have a life-changing impact for our clients and keep them warm, fed and sustained this Christmas and beyond.

  • Rob Owen – Chief Executive of St Giles Trust

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