PARENTS going without food so they can buy formula and reusing soiled nappies because they can't afford to buy new ones.
That's the heartbreaking reality that 36-year-old Bianca Sakol MBE, from Barnet in Greater London, has witnessed first-hand since setting up Sebby's Corner in January 2021.
The baby bank, which believes "no child should go without basic essentials," offers a range of services including family referrals where they provide items such as clothing, nappies, formula, toiletries and baby equipment.
Now, less than two years later, Sebby's Corner has its own premises in Cowley Hill, Borehamwood, 5 part-time staff, 200 volunteers and reaches thousands of vulnerable children every year.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous for our Baby, Bank On Us campaign, Bianca, who lives with her husband Gary and two children Theo, six and Darcy, four, explains: "We hear so many stories where parents are missing meals so they can buy food or formula for their kids.
"They're becoming more commonplace, almost to the point we aren't shocked anymore – it's becoming the norm for so many families now.
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"I've heard stories where parents will empty out the dirty nappy and put it back on again because they just haven't got enough to go round.
"It's things like that that people maybe don't realise – there are so many families who are living hand to mouth."
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But that's where baby banks like Sebby's Corner can help.
Sebby's Corner, which supports families living in poverty, women and their children who have fled domestic abuse and refugees, started in January 2021 during lockdown.
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"I was looking for somewhere to get rid of my kids' clothes that they'd outgrown," Bianca explains.
"Obviously all charity shops were shut and I ended up selling a big bag of clothes on Facebook."
"I got £10 for it and it just gave me the ick.
"I just thought this £10 wasn't going to change my life and I'd much rather have given the clothes to a family that needed them, but there wasn't anywhere to do that."
Taking matters into her own hands, Bianca reached out to a local food bank and asked whether she could drop off clothes her kids and friend's kids had outgrown once a week.
They agreed – and she was given a little corner in the food bank where she could give them away to families in need.
As the weeks passed, more and more families came along until eventually, the food bank asked Bianca to take over all of the kids stuff – including clothes, nappies and formula.
That's when Sebby's Corner – 'Sebby' being the name of Bianca's late brother and 'corner' being a reference to the the corner of the food bank – was founded.
Highlighting the desperation of families in need, Bianca recalls: "One week we run out of formula and we had about 10 families we had to turn away.
I've heard stories where parents will empty out the dirty nappy and put it back on again because they just haven't got enough to go round.
"I was devastated and really cross.
"I wrote a post about it on Facebook to my friends explaining what had happened, and asked them to please consider donating the cost of a box of formula or any they may have that they're not using anymore."
Within 48 hours, Bianca had raised a whopping £16k, while 22 boxes of formula was donated.
It was a huge turning point for the mum-of-two, who knew people were keen to help, but just didn't have an obvious way to do so.
"After that it became very clear we had loads of formula, clothes and nappies and we outgrew the food bank," says Bianca, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable people, particularly refugees.
"We've grown again since then and we have over 300 referral partners – people who refer families to us – and we're helping maybe 50-60 families a week."
The mum-of-two regularly hears stories of parents who skip meals to feed their kids and have no choice but to re-use soiled nappies.
"We get a lot of families watering down formula just to make it stretch and last longer if they don't know where the next box of formula is coming from," she says.
How YOU can support Fabulous’ Baby, Bank On Us campaign
– Give money by donating here or by scanning the QR code.
– Give clothing, toys and essentials to a baby bank, wherever you are in the UK.
– Give your time volunteering. To find your nearest baby bank, visit Littlevillagehq.org/uk-baby-banks.
"You'd be amazed at how many parents aren't eating because all of their attention and focus is going towards making sure their baby and children are fed.
"We now keep a stock of snacks at our hub so that families can take them."
She continues: "Baby formula and equipment is expensive – we've seen it when we're buying our stock – especially if your baby is on specialist formula, that could be £18.50 a box.
"If your baby is going through two boxes a week, you're talking over £100 a month and some people have that a month for their whole food budget – it's really difficult."
Recalling another heartbreaking story, she says: "One time a school made a referral for a little girl because she kept going to school without knickers on.
"It turns out the reason was because the family couldn't afford to buy any knickers and were too embarrassed to say anything."
For any struggling parent worried about asking for help, Bianca urges: "There's no reason to be embarrassed or have any shame.
"We know that all parents want to do the best for their children and we just want to help them do that.
One week we run out of formula and we had about 10 families we had to turn away…I was devastated.
"We've just moved to a new hub which is much bigger and it's all set out to feel like a shop.
"The parents can choose which of the different toiletries they want, the different brands they want, and we try and make it feel like a very dignified, uplifting experience.
"All we want to do is help.
"Families say we're like a safety net.
"We have all of the stock here and I'd much rather it's out in families houses than just sitting here, but to do that people have to come through the door."
Sebby's Corner works to support families across Hertfordshire, Barnet and all of North London.
Explaining how the baby bank works, Bianca says: "We'll help any family in the local area who can get to us.
"You can't walk in off the street – you need a referral from a professorial, but that can be anyone from a health visitor to a health visitor, a teacher or a GP to a social worker.
"Once the family's referred to us, they make an appointment, they're invited in and we take them around – and obviously there's no charge at the end."
And if you're looking to donate to Sebby's Corner, it really couldn't be easier.
"You can donate money on our website," says Bianca.
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"It's one of the best ways to support us because it helps us do things like pay for the building we're in which is such a lovely space for families.
"We also take any pre-loved baby equipment, toys, toiletries – as long as it's in good enough condition that you'd give it to your friend's child, then it's good enough for us!"
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