On the Breadline: ‘We make happy memories for traumatised kids’
There comes a moment at the end of the week when Jennifer, her husband and their two-year-old daughter run out of money. The 22-year-old mother puts out the last of the cereal for breakfast and butters some toast which has to last daughter Genesis all day.
Jennifer, who fled from El Salvador in May when her husband’s life was threatened by a gang and relies on benefits of just £25 a week while their asylum claims are processed, said: “Every week we run out of food and every week I say to my husband we must make miracle.
“We turn to a local food bank on a Friday but weekends are the hardest. We go to the park because it’s free. There is no other space to go.”
Recently though, Jennifer found “a new space” run by Solidarity Sports which holds a weekly group in west London for under-fives and which has been transformative.
“We live in a depressing hotel room but at Solidarity Sports, I can change the environment and Genesis can mix with other children. When I go there, I bond with other mums. It’s like a second family and it lifts my spirits.”
Solidarity Sports is one of the charities eligible to benefit from our On the Breadline Christmas appeal in partnership with The Childhood Trust and Comic Relief. They help 240 disadvantaged children a year, ranging from newborns to 16, and most of their activities involve after-school and holiday programmes.
CEO Sean Mendez, 42, described Solidarity Sports as “like a school that runs during school holidays”. He said: “We work with children facing poverty, neglect and trauma and give them happy memories.
“We take them on trips and introduce them to trampolining, ice skating and bowling. We also do trips to Brighton, the Isle of Wight and Paris Disneyland.”
Mr Mendez added: “It’s not just parents unable to afford food, it’s the knock-on effect on stress in the household. I got some devastating news from a single mum with three children aged three, 12 and 14 — her 12-year-old had been cutting herself and having suicidal thoughts.
“Until now, all the family’s resources had been going on their 14-year-old who has behavioural issues. This 12-year-old is the sweetest girl. It’s so sad. We are seeing the ages of children who are self-harming getting younger and younger. Many kids can’t see a future. And for their parents, there are feelings of failure at their inability to provide.”
Angela (not her real name), a single mother of four who grew up in Chelsea, is a case in point.
The 40-year-old daughter of an Oxford graduate and restaurateur graduated from London Metropolitan University and did not imagine she would end up relying on universal credit. She was hoping to go back to work but an unexpected late pregnancy derailed those plans.
“Ten days before the end of the month I run out of cash,” she said. “That’s when I have to ask for help and turn to family and friends for basics like money for food.
“Before I was able to come out on universal credit but now with all the price rises it’s not possible. I was somebody who was independent had the means to do things, but now I can’t and it makes me feel like such a failure.”
Mr Mendez worries that children of parents who can’t cope can sometimes respond by blaming themselves or never demanding anything.
“There was a child who came in and he was limping. It turned out his trainers were so small, his toes were bulging out the front. He was eight and his mother couldn’t afford new shoes. We bought him new trainers and he was smiling ear to ear.
“This Christmas we will be looking after 90 children, up from 50 last year. It’s the cost of living.
“It is having a devastating impact on our families.”