We all have our own idea of the perfect Christmas. But, chances are, at the heart of it is the family clustered around a table laden with food.
Sharing Christmas dinner is one of the magic moments of the season ... even if the pressure to get everything just right can add a large helping of festive stress.
But what if the worry was not whether the roast potatoes would be crisped to perfection, but if you could afford to put food on the table at all?
That is the stark reality facing hundreds of families across our region.
The anguish of wondering how you will pay for your next meal is bad enough at any time.
At Christmas, as others look forward to turkey, pudding, and “maybe just one more mince pie”, it must feel more crushing than ever.
In the coming weeks our local foodbanks will be calling for help to bring some seasonal cheer to people struggling to buy even the basics of life.
All year round they provide an emergency lifeline to families and individuals who – for all kinds of reasons – suddenly find they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Food boxes packed with donated non-perishable staples like pasta, canned vegetables and fish, and breakfast cereals are handed out to people in need.
But in November and December they step up a gear to ensure they can give not just the essentials, but some of the seasonal luxuries most of us take for granted.
Christmas cakes, puddings, mince pies, biscuits, sweets and chocolate treats will be needed and, as ever, the foodbanks are depending on kind-hearted donors to help.
Regular collection points exist in each town and in some cases extra ones are added as Christmas approaches.
They are often put in supermarkets in the hope that shoppers will buy extra items to donate.
Ten years ago, foodbanks were a rarity. Now it is more unusual to find a town without one.
In market towns where the idea of a family going hungry was once unthinkable, scores of food parcels may be provided every month.
The reasons vary enormously. It could be the sudden loss of income through redundancy, benefit delays, or family break-ups.
With government focus on benefits and allowances cutbacks it is creating more worries for families already finding themselves unable to cope.
For recipients, going for the first time to collect a food parcel is often one of the hardest steps they have ever had to take.
But the foodbank organisers stress that it could happen to almost anyone. As one put it: “We tell people, you need help today. It could be us tomorrow.”
Many foodbanks across the region are run by the Gatehouse charity, in partnership with churches and other organisations,
They took on the job of collecting and distributing food in 2012 although they have provided Christmas hampers for disadvantaged people for 20 years.
Chief executive Amanda Bloomfield says: “Our recipients come from any walk of life. So many people are only one pay cheque away from needing a food parcel.
“Often they are working and have young families. They may be on zero hours contracts and one of the problems is that when their hours change, benefits can’t be adjusted quickly enough.”
She says there is also a hidden homelessness problem. “Quite a lot of people are sofa-surfers, staying at friends’ houses but with no home of their own.”
Gatehouse volunteers start wrapping Christmas hampers in July with children from local schools giving valuable help.
While donors may automatically think of giving food, cash is needed too. “We need donations towards our running costs to continue the service,” Amanda added.
“We are really grateful for the generosity of people in Peterborough who make it all possible.”
Between April 2014 and September 2015, foodbanks in Peterborough gave 3,403 three-day emergency food supplies to 4,525 adults and 2,055 children.
In the last six months local people in Peterborough have donated over 24 tonnes of food with over 150 people volunteering.
And the winter is likely to see a rise in the numbers of people needing foodbanks if last year is anything to go by.
In December 2014, referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks nationally were 53 percent higher than the average across other months, with over 130,000 three-day food supplies being given to people in crisis in December alone.
The message to Peterborough Telegraph readers from Juliet Welch, foodbank manager in Peterborough, is that at some point anyone can need the lifeline of an emergency food voucher to keep them going.
She said: “The type of client we get is a big range. The idea of the foodbank is it’s a short-term help in a crisis situation.
“A crisis can happen to anybody at any time, particularly now with heating bills going up, or people needing to fix their cars who then can’t afford food.
“It’s a lifeline to them. They could need help because of a change in circumstances, housing benefit has changed. This fills that gap.
“People are very generous and we are supported well by local companies who all run Christmas collections for us.”
And part of the benefit of visiting a foodbank in Peterborough is that the support given is more than just a few tinned items or packets.
Juliet said: “When clients come to us it’s not just food that we give. They can come and sit and we will talk to them. We will pray with them if they want.
“We have the time to listen to their story and sympathise with them.
“And we can signpost them to other support that they did not know existed.
“We are non-judgemental. Agencies refer clients such as GPs, social landlords, the job centre, the city council.”
One person who needed to use a foodbank in Peterborough had just lost his job and was unable to access funds as his bank had closed his account without his knowledge.
He was living in a caravan in the city having moved from Norwich.
Even though he is unemployed, recently lost his best friend and has little funds he remains positive about the future.
He is an HGV lorry driver and cannot work as he needs to renew his licence but can not afford to pay the doctor for his test.
So he is now waiting until his new bank makes contact with social services to get access to his money.
Another client is living in a hotel as she had to flee domestic violence after her partner hit her in the eye and broke her eye socket.
Juliet also spoke with a lady who managed a pub which went bust and had 24 hours to vacate the premises, so she ended up in a hostel with no money and no food and very few possessions.
She presented herself as clean and tidy and anxious to get another job.
Juliet said she seemed pleased that she could relate her problems to her and that she left with not just bags of food, but also feeling a little more hopeful for the future.
There are nine foodbank distribution centres in Peterborough which are all open one day a week.
These are at: the Salvation Army, Lincoln Road, Stanground Baptist Church, Church of the Holy Spirit in Bretton, the Honeyhill Community Centre in Paston, the Open Doors Centre in Gunthorpe, The Jigsaw Centre in Orton Malborne, Dogsthorpe Methodist Church, Westgate Church and Masjid Khadijah Mosque in Cromwell Road.
A national foodbank collection drive is taking place at Tesco stores in Hampton and Werrington from today until Saturday where volunteers will be holding a shopping list.
Peterborough Foodbank is also piloting a new scheme called ‘Eat Well Spend Less,’ a six-week course to teach people how to cook on a budget.
Juliet said: “Some of the issues are that some clients have not learned how to cook. It’s a fun course and quite interactive. Each week there’s cooking to do and an activity.”
The pilot is continuing next week and more volunteers with cooking experience are needed.
Stamford Foodbank is also looking for last minute donations for hampers to be handed out to 120 people next week. Donations including Christmas puddings and much-needed toiletries can be delivered to St George’s Church office in Maiden Lane before 5pm tomorrow.
Lawrence Davie, secretary of Stamford Foodbank, said: “People are really surprised and pleased to have something because life is really tough.”