Danish charity hands out record number of food boxes

Charity Dansk Folkehjælp, an organisation that seeks to help underprivileged people in Denmark, has been unable to provide food packages to all applicants this Christmas despite record numbers of donations.

Danish charity hands out record number of food boxes
A 2013 file photo of children receiving a Dansk Folkehjælp Christmas food package. Photo: Morten Stricker /Ritzau Scanpix

Although 14.7 million kroner (1.9 million euros) was raised through charitable donations to the organisation in 2018, enabling the NGO to provide relief to a record 11,332 families, that was still not enough to meet the needs of vulnerable people who asked for help.

4,000 applications from families who would have been approved were rejected due to lack of resources, general secretary Klaus Nørlem said.

“We have to concede that the task was bigger than our capacity. That means there were a number of families who tried to no avail again this year,” Nørlem said.

Dansk Folkehjælp and a number of other charities in the Scandinavian country have begun to send out Christmas food help packages in recent years.

The Danish Salvation Army (Frelsens Hær) is another organisation to have noted the trend of increasing demand for the packages.

Lars Lydholm, head of the charity’s information department, said that latest counts showed up to 11,500 applications had been received and between 8,500 and 9,000 Christmas hampers given out.

That is not a record but does continue a high level set last year, Lydholm said.

Applicants are also stating more severe financial problems, the Salvation Army found.

A recent analysis by the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (ECLM), a Danish economic policy institute and think-tank working to promote social justice in Denmark, found that 43,648 children in Denmark are living in conditions of poverty.

That level compares with figures from 2009, when the effects of the global financial crisis were keenly felt in Denmark.

Nørlem said he felt attitudes towards poverty in Denmark had changed.

“I think Danes have embraced Christmas charity. More and more are recognising that there is poverty and inequality in Denmark,” he said.

Dansk Folkehjælp’s Christmas package has a total value of 1,500 kroner (200 euros) and includes food, and vouchers for kids’ toys and sports clothing.

To qualify for the packages, families must be single-parent, with the only provider reliant on social welfare, and with children under the age of 18.
All applications must be approved by authorities in the applicant’s home municipality.

READ ALSO: Number of poor people in Denmark 'doubled' since 2002: report

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Why are record numbers in Denmark asking for charity help this Christmas?

More people than ever before have asked the Danish Red Cross for help this Christmas.

Why are record numbers in Denmark asking for charity help this Christmas?
Another charity in Denmark, Frelsens Hær, handing out Christmas packages in 2017. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish Red Cross expects to give up to 12,000 families assistance getting in food for Christmas this year.

That would represent a record number of families asking for a helping hand, Politiken reports.

Although an increase in people turning to charity for help sounds alarming, it is partly due to a reduction in negative connotations being made with financial difficulty, according to a head of department at the charity.

“In the last ten years, there has been an enormous increase in the number of families with children who apply for Christmas assistance. And we are going to set a record this year,” Ziga Friberg, head of the family section at the Danish Red Cross, told Politiken.

“This is not something we are pleased about, even though we’re happy to help. That’s because we’d prefer it if life wasn’t so hard that families need to ask for our help at Christmas,” Friberg said.

In 2010, 1,600 families with children received Red Cross Christmas help. The figure grew to 7,300 in 2015 and 11,700 last year.

The charity’s Christmas help package consists of either a food hamper or a gift voucher to be spent at a store belonging to the Coop supermarket chain.

Several factors are likely to have contributed to the increase in people turning to the charity for help at Christmas, Politiken writes.

“We know that many families still think it is embarrassing and shameful that they are in a situation where they need a helping hand. But we are quite convinced that it has become less of a taboo to ask for help when you need a hand, including at Christmas,” Friberg told the newspaper.

“The stigmatized shame with which (receiving) Christmas charity has always been associated is still there, but probably to a lesser degree,” she said.

Three criteria must be fulfilled for families to qualify for the charity’s Christmas help.

The family must include children, must not be receiving help from other charities, and Red Cross must exchange information about the family with local authorities, given that it is often municipal social workers who provide families with information about the Christmas charity packages.

“These are families known by the municipalities and who we often also know ourselves from our long-term activities. These are families who genuinely need a helping hand,” Friberg said.

Figures from the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelses Erhvervsråd, ECLM) show that the last two years have seen a substantial increase in families struggling to make ends meet due to low income, according to Politiken’s report.

That is also likely related to the increased use of the Christmas charity package.

“These are not families with large social networks or other family members who can step in and help. These families are alone, often on social security, suffering from long-term illness or in very low-paid jobs which make it hard for them to give their children a Christmas that is just a little bit like the one the rest of us have,” Friberg said.

The Danish Red Cross is one of a number of charitable organizations in the country that offer assistance to underprivileged families at Christmas.

READ ALSO: Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD