Every year, employees fill and wrap colorful packages at many Daimler locations in Germany for the Daimler “Give a smile” Christmas campaign. Schwäbische Tafel Stuttgart is one of the partner organizations that distribute the packages shortly before Christmas to children and teenagers at various locations, including the organization’s food banks in Stuttgart. What do these food banks actually do? Ingrid Poppe, the project leader of Schwäbische Tafel, and Susanne Tylingo, the deputy project leader and head of Fellbacher Tafelladen, tell about their daily work at the food banks and explain what makes the “Give a smile” campaign so special.
How long have the food banks existed in Stuttgart?
Schwäbische Tafel Stuttgart was founded in 1995. It collects donated food that is no longer being sold commercially but is still perfectly edible. This food is brought to the food banks, where it is provided at very low prices to people in need. The project started out 22 years ago in a space the size of a living room, with 12 customers. Now, about 2,000 people a day line up outside the doors of the four food banks in Stuttgart and Fellbach.
Do the food bank customers include lots of families with children?
Ingrid Poppe: That’s hard to say. People leave their children at home if possible. Shopping at the food bank involves standing in line as well as some pushing and shoving, and the people are not always in a good mood. That’s why we seldom see the children — except at our “Give a smile” event. It’s interesting to see how many children turn up behind the grown-ups who come to shop at the food bank every day — such as the three children who are otherwise only a number indicating the size of the household on the food bank shopping card.
What’s the special thing about the “Give a smile” Christmas campaign, in your opinion?
Ingrid Poppe: The donated food we pick up every day is transferred from the donors to an anonymous crowd of people, and it’s surplus food that ordinary shoppers no longer want. By contrast, “Give a smile” is something very personal, a blessing, a bonus — every package is put together with a child in mind, so it’s valuable in a very different way. The day when the packages are distributed has nothing to do with the customers’ daily struggle for survival. For a moment they can simply stop thinking about all the things they can’t afford, and instead accept a nice present.
Is there anything special that you personally associate with this campaign?
Susanne Tylingo: The entire day when we distribute the packages is a great experience. We celebrate with a Christmas tree, a festively decorated food bank, Santa Claus, and candy. Our volunteer helpers go to a lot of trouble to make it a real celebration. The expectation in the eyes of all those children, sooo many packages — there’s a big selection and “Oh no, there’s a bigger package way on top, I’d rather have that one” and then you quickly try to help them and get that one down, and “Oh, I’d like a red one, no I’d rather have a blue one…” Some of the packages are opened right away, and the kids are surprised and they’re laughing — it’s simply these very, very small details that make the day so special.
What are the signs that would enable me to spot poverty in the prosperous state of Baden-Württemberg?
Ingrid Poppe: For many of these people, it’s very important to keep up appearances. So you have to look very carefully to see the signs. For example, you might see a pretty pair of shoes that are rather worn or haven’t been in style for the past 15 years. However, we don’t stand at the entrance of the food bank and watch to see whether the people look poor. At the entrance we look to see whether they have a Stuttgart bonus card, a limited income or social welfare document, a job center, pension or student loan ID, or our food bank customer card, which we give to people after they’ve submitted the necessary documentation.
Do you also distribute the “Give a smile” packages to other organizations?
Ingrid Poppe: Every year we ask refugee organizations and church-supported counseling centers whether they would like to receive packages, because these are often the first places that families turn to for help. But last year the refugee organizations only said they needed 26 packages for the families that had recently arrived during the pre-Christmas season. By now almost all of the refugees are living in permanent housing, using the food banks to shop for food, and coming to the gift-giving event together with their children.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the Daimler employees who participated in the project?
Susanne Tylingo: “THANK YOU!!!”
Ingrid Poppe: Yes, thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve been running the “Give a smile” project together with the Daimler employees for seven years now. I’d also like to thank everyone for their reliability and for keeping the project going. For parents who can’t fulfill many of their children’s wishes, it’s a big relief and a comfort to know that their children will receive a Christmas package at the Schwäbische Tafel in Stuttgart through Daimler’s “Give a smile” project.