A primary school teacher, and happiness motivational speaker says that her discrete, no shame hampers could reduce child poverty in the Tees Valley area.
Saltburn-born altruist, Shonette Bason-Wood’s charity, Spreading the Happiness, donates to seven schools on Teesside, including Grangetown Primary School in Middlesbrough, Bewley Primary School in Billingham, and Green Gates Primary School in Redcar.
The charity fundraises through its not-for-profit Festival of Happiness, which is led by Shonette and Dr Andy Cope, a best-selling children’s author and self-proclaimed Dr of Happiness.
Shonette says, “We fundraise and then we check the schools that come to us on the IDACI index, so that we know that they are in poverty.
“We currently only feed schools that are 1 or 2 on the IDACI index. The schools that we feed, we are talking 150 families in need. For example, North Ormesby Primary School received 138 hampers from us.”
The IDACI Index uses a postcode search tool to measure the proportion of children aged 0 to 15 living in low income families in relation to the area they are living in. In Middlesbrough, more than a third, 33.9%, of children come from families who are reliant upon financial support, and are in danger of going hungry during the school holidays.
Shonette says, “When I started my charity, I had actually lost friends because they didn’t believe that there were hungry children. It’s parents, working parents. Lots of our hampers don’t go to families on benefits, they go to working families.”
The simple model works because the hampers are given out as gifts or as a prize from a raffle. Shonette says, “The way that we do it is so discrete. No shame is there.
“The schools get the hampers, then the schools either give them out as a gift or as ‘Spreading the Happiness’ raffle prizes.
“The reason this works is because it’s so discrete, the parents just come to the school and collect the hamper.”
The single mum-of-four launched the charity in 2011 while teaching at a school in Usworth Colliery, Washington. “As a teacher, I would go to the Co-op in my village and buy bread, spread, jam and biscuits, just because I couldn’t teach them because they were so hungry.
“Teachers know who the hungry children are. Teachers know more than anybody else in the community.
“Food banks are great, don’t get me wrong. All these places that are saying that they feed hungry children, which is great. But our charity, and I, believe, that parents won’t go to a food bank.
“Parents of our children would not invite that attention into their home because they are so scared that someone is going to take their children off them. So you’ve got a stigma attached to food banks and benefits.”
Many Tees Valley businesses pulled together to feed vulnerable children this October half term, offering free meals with no questions asked.
Shonette says, “These restaurants are giving, which is great. However, a family is not going to come to you.
“There are families who will go, but the majority of families we feed would not go. For example, in Usworth Colliery, there isn’t a restaurant anywhere near there. They would have to get a bus to go there.”
She adds, “I think it’s great that the country has risen up and said let’s feed hungry kids, but is it sustainable for the future?
“Nobody’s charity does the same as ours because I’ve looked. This is why I want Marcus Rashford to see it, or Fareshare.
“This is a sustainable model. If we get this model in front of Fareshare, then we could solve, in a pandemic, child food poverty. My passion is to drive this forward, and get this to somebody who has the resources to help us. They could make the hampers regionally, and I know DHL would help deliver them to the schools.”
This October half term, Spreading the Happiness handed out 450 hampers to struggling families across the country in partnership with DHL, and is looking at further donations with Jaguar Land Rover.
“At the moment, it’s a mass panic of ‘let’s solve the problem’, next week children go back to school and it will be forgotten,” says Shonette.
“But what about when Christmas comes, when Easter comes, when summer 2021 comes. Summer 2021 is going to be the hardest one yet, I think. But if we got on board with this now, and everybody who’s championing Marcus Rashford got on board with this now, including the Manchester United Foundation, invested money, we could feed everybody next summer.”
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