TJ and his niece Savanna want to make a difference (Picture: TJ Atkinson)
‘I have 78p in my bank account.’
Those were the stark words a mother-of-three at my local church told me back in September 2022.
That money was meant to feed her three kids that week, and as a result she was contemplating shoplifting. As a friend, I was shocked to say the least.
Hearing her story broke my heart.
I had trouble sleeping that night because I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman. I couldn’t imagine how it must feel to choose between potentially committing a crime to feed her kids, or going without.
My initial thoughts were: ‘What if she gets caught? What if she goes to prison? How will that impact her family?’ I resolved to help her.
The cost-of-living crisis is impacting so many people’s lives. According to a recent study by YouGov, one in nine Britons skipped meals in the last three months because they couldn’t afford food and a quarter of parents have skipped meals in the last year so that they could afford to feed their kids.
Though I am a property investor, I didn’t grow up with loads of money. It was quite the opposite actually, which often surprises people as many still associate my job as an activity for wealthy, white middle-class men to toy with in their spare time.
Growing up without a lot of money resulted in me adopting bad habits when I first started to earn a good salary.
I tried to play catch up for all the years I didn’t have an income, and I’d spend money to try and show off to my friends. Purchasing all the things I could never afford as a child.
I remember buying a pair of trainers I’d always wanted, costing £600, thinking it would make me feel accomplished. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
It was at this point in my life, aged 31, that I realised that being able to buy materialistic things wasn’t something that was going to bring me genuine happiness.
Now, I find true happiness in helping other people do better financially. Making a difference in any way that I can.
I regularly donate to charity and have always enjoyed seeing someone’s eyes light up when they receive help. I grew up in church, which means I was always involved going into our local communities and offering assistance to people in need.
I’ve helped over 20 people through giveaways (Picture: TJ Atkinson)
I think this played a big part in me wanting to do the same thing, when I got the chance.
Over the last year or so, my mum – who belongs to a WhatsApp group of mothers that pray for kids in the UK – has introduced me to many families struggling to feed their families; people who can’t afford to pay bills and are in a sea of debt.
It’s one thing to hear about the stories on the news, but when you start hearing stories from people who you know that are close to home, that’s when it starts to feel real.
When I realised how bad things were getting, I thought of ways I could help those around me. Back in August 2022, I offered my London tenants a rent reduction for three months to help with rising costs.
I knew I could help people I had access to, but what about the hundreds and thousands of people, like I met that day in church, who couldn’t afford to feed their children – how could I help them?
This is when I decided to set up a small business, We are Tolani, with my niece, Savanna and host random cash giveaways for my 16,000 followers on Instagram and 30,000 followers on TikTok.
The giveaways are really simple. We choose an amount we want to give away, which can range from £100 to £1000. We then post on TikTok and Instagram. Savanna will then scroll through the comments and pick one lucky winner.
Some comments have been from single mums who ‘haven’t been able to afford flooring’ in their home for three years. Others are from people who live on £84 a month, or who have to choose between ‘heating and food’.
I think everyone that is in a position to help others, should do it
I initially started funding the giveaways with my money, but small businesses started asking if they could assist. Now, I work with companies that want to do good.
Our first winner was Melissa, a mum-of-one, who won £100. She was on maternity leave, but hadn’t worked in her job long enough to be eligible for maternity pay. Melissa was trying to survive on maternity allowance given by the government, which is around £172 a week.
‘I never imagined that I would be struggling so much financially and I was considering going back to work early, even though my daughter was only three months old,’ she told us, adding that her child’s formula cost £14 a tub, without even beginning to stock up on nappies, and other essentials.
After winning, Melissa was so grateful. This made me so happy and determined to continue doing these giveaways, but on a larger and more frequent scale.
Since then, I’ve helped 35 other people in a similar way.
Now, I am currently teaching my 10-year-old niece the value of helping others, too.
Savanna has even offered to contribute £100 to the next giveaway.
After I taught her about money management and investing, she started investing in the stock market from the age of seven.
I help show her that while making money is good, it’s so much better when you can make money to empower others and change their lives.
Now, I love being in a position to help others, even if it’s just helping people buy groceries or feed their children. I think everyone that is in a position to help others, should do it. You feel great about yourself, but you can also genuinely change someone’s life.
I gave £500 to the woman who told me she had 78p in her bank account, so she could buy food for herself and her family.
Money is a tool that can help others – it’s high time more of us realised it.
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A friend told me she had 78p in her bank account to feed her three kids, and that she was considering shoplifting.