People in poverty do not need to be judged, just helped - Christa Ackroyd

Outside, where I am, the fields are white, the roads are deserted and the world looks magical.

For many families, empty food cupboards are a day to day reality.

I have just seen a pair of deer come down from the woods and a crane has flown overhead like some prehistoric monster in the sky as I sit inside the comfort of my own home beside a warm, inviting fire.

I have no need to venture out. The fridge is full. There is a chicken in the oven for tea and my one-year-old puppy lies asleep in his basket, not a care in the world.

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My husband is watching the cricket in the other room reminiscing about the far flung trip we took to the very same ground in Sri Lanka almost a year ago now. In Australia, our eldest daughter has just celebrated her birthday with a trip to the beach along with a group of friends.

They can’t leave the country and haven’t been able to for almost a year. But at least they can hug each other, if not us. In the US our son and his wife are hunkered down safely in New Jersey with their first baby, just one month old. A Christmas miracle whom we can’t wait to meet.

Down the road in Halifax, Boots the Chemist has just become the first pharmacy in the country to offer the Covid vaccination as the nation passes the three million mark. And credit where credit is due, we are now the country to have vaccinated more people than any other in Europe.

In Calderdale where I live, the Covid figures are going down. Where once we were near the top of the charts for infection rates we are now nearer the bottom, because the vast majority of people have been taking notice of the lockdown. And that is true of the rest of the nation where most people are doing what is requested of them in order to stay safe and keep others safe too.

And yet I am fed up, though I am well aware we are among the lucky ones. We have a roof over our heads, warm clothes to wear and food in the cupboards. And I also realise that being fed up is very different from being depressed.

I can’t even get angry. I just feel sad that someone, somewhere decided that cutting a tomato in half and a carrot into a quarter was acceptable to send to someone down on their luck to help feed their children. That the food boxes sent out by some companies were woefully inadequate is not disputed by either the Government or indeed some of the firms that sent them out.

What saddens me is that they were sent out in the first place. Who on earth decided that four bottles of water was acceptable when there is water in the tap and children needing proper food in their stomachs? And if one person comments on this column that there are too many scroungers, or that parents should have thought about how they feed their children when they conceived them, then they should hang their heads in shame.

This pandemic has changed things for many people who were already struggling to keep their heads above water before it.

Do you really think the vast majority of people enjoy accepting charity? They must lie awake at night wondering how they will put food into the mouths of their children. And what’s more there are millions of them.

This week the official statistics were published in this newspaper and they were shocking. What’s more, they didn’t include those who may have slipped through the net because they are too proud to ask. Too scared of being judged. They make stark reading.

Around one in three children in our county live in poverty. There are many more people who don’t have children who are categorised as being the same, too poor to live not comfortably, but anywhere near healthily. And those figures are rising due to Covid.

This same week we also learned of 19 people who died last year on the streets of Leeds. Yes, the council must be applauded for getting so many into hostels, hotels and bed and breakfasts but there are still too many who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Meanwhile, in our hospitals, our doctors and nurses are battling to cope with a second wave of coronavirus harsher than the first. The first wave left almost half of them unsurprisingly suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Heaven knows how they are feeling now. The problem is as the death toll reaches the 100,000 mark we risk becoming immune to pain and suffering.

We as a society must find a way of helping those in need without making them feel worthless and without humiliating them. And that is why I was saddened at some of the food boxes sent out because they did not help.

They added to the sense of failure and added to the burden. In this country there are thousands of people who are working their socks off to show people they care.

These volunteers man the food banks, feed the homeless, offer support to those who are down on their luck. And we can do so much more, from handing an old computer or tablet to a child who has no access to online learning, to delivering nutritious meals to the doorsteps of families who need them.

Millions signed up as volunteers when the pandemic first struck. So ask yourself if you can help. We are all in this together.

In the meantime, the first shoots of spring are peeping through the snow. By the time the hundreds of bulbs I planted during lockdown are in full bloom, we will be on our way to coming out of this terrible moment in our history, a moment most of us will survive.

As I said earlier, we are the lucky ones. But there are millions of people struggling out there who do not need our pity, or our judgment, they just need our support.

Let us pledge right now never to cut a tomato in half and pretend it helps. We are a better country than that.