GIVEN the chaotic events of the past year, it is hardly news to assert we are living in a society in acute crisis.

Two recent reports bear this out: the Joseph Rowntree survey Poverty in Scotland 2022, and the Trussell Trust’s State of Hunger, which is the largest study into hunger and food bank use in the UK. Both are utterly terrifying.

As the Rowntree Foundation writes: “Nearly one in five households on low incomes in Scotland have gone hungry and cold this year, even before we enter the winter months… families face the fiercest attack on standards of living that most of us will have seen in our lifetimes.”

They go on to predict what Christmas will be like for many families: “Deep scars will be caused by hunger, cold and trauma.”

Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust quotes a foodbank volunteer: “We’re seeing a level of fear in people that we haven’t seen before. In that, literally, they don’t know what they’re going to do to try and pay the bills and feed their families.”

All this happening right now, in 21st century Scotland, a country that prides itself on a strong sense of solidarity, equality, community and compassion.

For those of us fortunate enough, despite the cost of living crisis, to still be able to feed their family and heat their home, it’s a salutary exercise to imagine what it must feel like not to be able to do that. One word springs to mind for me: desolation.

Given the unprecedented depth of this crisis, it is not only the 300,000 or so families living in poverty in Scotland who are severely affected, but many others – such as NHS nurses – folk whom one would not necessarily expect to see using foodbanks.

With your help, we at Scottish Book Trust want to pour a light into this darkness, by providing free books to families facing a desperate time this Christmas. Books are enlightening, fun, an escape, and something that all the family can enjoy together – though too many families cannot afford to do so.

We know that books are key to combatting poverty since, no matter what one’s background is, literacy and good language development are key to educational attainment and a route out of one’s immediate circumstances.

That is why we have launched our annual appeal, to enable us to provide food banks with books for both children and adults, as we have done in previous years. A donation of just £5 through our website will enable us to gift a book and would make all the difference at Christmas. It is very quick and easy to do.

Working with our campaign partners – Local Authorities, Cyrenians, Trussell Trust, and others – we will be distributing to around 300 food banks and community hubs across Scotland, and we know this works.

“This was an amazing project to be part of”, commented one foodbank manager last year, “seeing the children get the books, seeing the adults – just great. Thank you!” The quality of the books that we are able to gift was also noted: “They were amazing, such rich, high-quality books which children and families will love to read.”

Thanks to the publisher Harper Collins, the most famous cat in the world is also aiding us in our campaign. Created by the amazing Judith Kerr, Mog is a national icon and a hugely loved character. It’s also a great fit because of Kerr’s own story. As a child, she fled the discrimination of Nazi Germany, arriving in Britain as a refugee who then went on to enrich our culture, and in 2023 her life and work will be celebrated. Naturally, our distribution of free books this year also includes refugees from Ukraine, people who, like Kerr, lost everything but their will to survive and prosper in an adopted country.

With all this in mind, I hope you’ll join and support us in our campaign. The gift of a book to a child who doesn’t have one, and whose family will struggle to afford presents this year, is one of the very best and easiest things anyone can do at Christmas. It is, after all, the gift of light, in a dark time.

Marc Lambert is the CEO of the Scottish Book Trust. Working with Scottish Book Trust, The Herald is asking you, our readers, to donate money to help buy books for children whose families are using food banks this winter. See to help