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Janet’s Story: how the Toy Appeal helped my family

23 November 2022

This Christmas will be the toughest some of us will have ever known. Here parent Janet explains why Family Action’s Toy Appeal and Food Club means so much to her family, and outlines the comforts that have kept her afloat during a difficult time.  

At one point everything was so rosy… I had a lovely house on a large piece of land and, although I wouldn’t say I was rich, I didn’t want for anything. I suppose looking back I was quite materialistic, but that changed when I went through a divorce and some bad relationships and lost everything some time ago. Although I’ve always worked since then I just couldn’t make ends meet.

Thankfully it felt like things stabilised recently when my son and I were given a housing association house… But not before we spent a few months living in a hostel. I found it difficult as I was the only person in the hostel who worked – I’m a cleaner – and, in my mid-fifties, I felt like I was a lot older than the other people there. It was a tough time, but I have some good memories too.

One day we were given some food by a charity and all the other residents grabbed the sandwiches and pre-packed meals but left the veg and even a whole chicken… which I thought was odd. I told them that if they cleaned the communal kitchen and the pans I’d cook them a roast dinner… And they did! We had a lovely meal together.  It’s those simple joys of interaction and community spirit that have continued to keep me afloat during the difficult times we’re going through now.

“When I go to Family Action’s Food Club there’s a real sense of community and a lovely atmosphere and that makes it all seem better as you’re not the only one going through it.”

When I go to Family Action’s Food Club there’s a real sense of community and a lovely atmosphere and that makes it all seem better as you’re not the only one going through it.  I look forward to going as I can chat for England so when I see the staff and the other people there I could natter all day.

If Family Action decided to close its food clubs I don’t know what I’d do as It’s a lifeline to me and the people I talk to in the queue.

I don’t go to the supermarket anymore – I just get my food bag from the service and see what I can produce in the next few days… Although I always try to ensure that my teenage son gets the fruit first as he needs to stay healthy.  I do like my vegetables though and my son eats everything that’s put on his plate. Some kids are faddy eaters but my son knows that if he doesn’t eat what’s on his plate there might not be anything else.

He says one day he’s going to look after me when he’s rich from playing sports… but I’m just happy to have a roof over my head. The food club is good though because you get different things each time, so I end up cooking things I wouldn’t normally cook; I show my son what we’ve got when he comes back from school and we google what we can cook together.  But we make do with what we’ve got, and there are no more “big shops” which is strange because I used to love going shopping… Especially for clothes.

I probably had too many and some are quite nice – People will tell me that they like my top and I’ll be thinking “it’s 20 years old”! In some ways it’s sad because now I don’t have anything I veer away from people who tell me how successful they are, and my circle of friends gets smaller because I don’t want to compare myself. But despite all that I sort of feel like every day it gets better and better because we couldn’t have gotten any lower.  We’ve been at the top, we hit rock bottom, and when I look at what we’ve been through we still came through it… And I’m so glad for the gifts we’ve been given, like the house.

I try to keep it house nice – I painted it all with white paint and I upcycled all our furniture from things we were given or things I could pick up from car boot sales… I reupholstered a lot of it with new fabrics. I have to be careful with the amount I do though as I’ve got a number of health conditions related to my legs which are very painful, and as a single parent I have to do all the parental jobs so I can’t stop, but I work as much as I can.

I’m constantly on the go and I just pray that the car doesn’t break down as I need it for work and school and, particularly recently with the increase in the cost of living, there’s no money left over to fix it.  The cost of living keeps going up, but my salary doesn’t. I’ve cut back on cleaning products for the house, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea in the long run as my sink was blocked the other day and I’m sure it’s because I’m not using as much bleach.

But it’s getting worrying to think how much things actually cost – things like school shirts and uniforms. Thankfully my son still fits some of his old school uniforms and we look after his shirts and stuff but I also dread other costs like school trips because I worry they’ll be expensive.. although, again, I think they’ve toned them down because of how many people are struggling. All this means that I don’t buy anything for myself… ever.

I don’t drink and smoke, we can’t afford to go anywhere and we don’t have any money for treats or presents.  It’s hard for my son as he used to have nice things, but he’s learnt to adapt and it’s probably done him good in the long run. But that’s why the Family Action Toy Appeal is so amazing.

Last year he got given a spirograph and, even though I didn’t think he would be into it because he’s so sporty he was made up… He said “mum, this is so cool”.

I think it’s nice to know that somebody is thinking of you, especially at Christmas, and it does make you feel quite humble that somebody has gone out of their way to choose a present.

“It’s nice to know that somebody is thinking of you, especially at Christmas, and it does make you feel quite humble that somebody has gone out of their way to choose a present.”

When you don’t get much having that one present to open when you sit around the tree means a lot.
At least you’ve got a present… at least you got one.

I’m hoping that my life will change in the future. At the moment I’m ticking over but I’m hoping I can work things out.

Unless it affects you physically you just have to block things out, not think about what could happen and be grateful for the roof over your head.

I saw a bloke begging who I used to go to school with the other day and he said hello…  It’s sad, but that could have been me – we could have easily spiralled down even further. So I’m grateful for my house and I’m grateful for my son: Life is what you make of it, but I can’t see myself moving from here unless I win the lottery… and I don’t play the lottery. 

This Christmas, families are struggling like never before. Find out how you can help make a difference.