“We’ve spoken to pupils who have been the recipients of food items their peers have brought in”


In our latest guest blog, Grace Dunne, our Poverty Proofing Coordinator, explores how the Harvest Festival period may impact children living in poverty and how schools can help them take part without guilt or stigma.

As autumn draws in, many schools are returning to their seasonal traditions: singing about fluffy cauliflowers, drying children’s soggy socks on radiators and gathering cans of beans for the harvest collection.

In the past, these collections tended to be taken to a local church for distribution to those in the local community who may need them, or even delivered door to door by groups of pupils.

In 2021, of course, we have food banks, and many schools will be collecting donations for their local branch.

It can be a brilliant way for pupils to learn about charitable giving and fundraising, and build empathy for those facing difficult circumstances. It can also help pupils move beyond the sometimes extreme examples of poverty they see in fundraising campaigns and the media, and to understand how it is affecting those closer to home.

However, when 31% of children in England are living in poverty (nine in a class of 30), and one in five schools have set up food banks for their own communities, how can schools ensure that these collections avoid putting pressure on families at an already costly time of year and don’t stigmatise those pupils who are not able to donate?

In our Poverty Proofing© the School Day work, we’ve spoken to pupils who’ve expressed that they felt disappointed in themselves when they “forgot” to bring in a donation. We have also spoken to pupils who have been the recipients of food items their peers have brought in. Many pupils (and their parents) will forget to bring things in and bring them the next day instead, but it’s important to be aware that ‘forgetting’ donations can also be a way to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to contribute.

We’ve gathered some ideas for how to ensure that all pupils can get involved in your next foodbank collection…

Aim to make the donation process as anonymous as possible. This means avoiding asking for pupils to bring donations to the front of the class, or getting them to carry their donations to the school hall or church. Many schools choose to have a donation point in the school office or hall and have the collection going on for weeks rather than on one day, so it is not apparent to others if a child has not brought anything in.

Food banks are often in dire need of financial donations to pay for storage, collection and distribution. Cash also gives them the freedom to bulk purchase items that they know their clients need. A link could be added to the school website inviting families to donate what they can. As well as these donations being anonymous, this option might be easier for busy parents than remembering to pack cans in their children’s school bags. You may also be surprised to find that ‘pay as you feel’ collections often result in higher donations than those with a fixed amount.

Generosity and kindness are values that are widely promoted in schools. It can be difficult to find a balance where this is celebrated, but pupils should not be overly praised for the material contribution they and their families have made. It can be tempting to say to the whole class, “Wow, Emily’s family have sent us in 20 cans for the collection! Thank you so much Emily!”, but it’s important to consider the impact this may have on pupils who have not been able to contribute.

This could be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that everyone can give something, regardless of how much money or resources they and their family have. For example, pupils could be encouraged to make cards in class to accompany the donations. Older pupils could be supported to write letters to their MP about the importance of challenging poverty in their communities.

Often, children take part in charity initiatives in school without being fully aware of exactly what it is they’re raising funds for. It’s important that those living in poverty aren’t stereotyped when food banks are being described to pupils and that pupils are encouraged to empathise with, rather than show pity for, those who use food banks. People living in poverty should not be stereotyped or ‘othered’ by the language used. Pupils could be shown videos of interviews with food bank users to show that they are real people and not just statistics. For example, this great video from The Trussell Trust showing Professor Green visiting a food bank in Lewisham.

“It’s a No-Money Day” by Kate Milner is a beautiful picture book, which sensitively explores a mother and child’s visit to the food bank.

School staff need to remain aware that many of their pupils will already know about food banks, from their personal experience. It’s important that these pupils do not feel identified or stigmatised during class discussions. They should not feel that they need to share their own experience but, if they do want to, should be provided with support. It’s a good idea to remind pupils that poverty is a difficult topic to discuss and, if anything in the discussion upset them, they know where to seek support in school.

With a bit of planning, the annual harvest collection can be an invaluable opportunity for pupils and staff to consider the impact of poverty in their communities and consider what can be done beyond packing up the parcels.

We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject via the Children North East Poverty Proofing© Twitter.