I started penning this letter at the beginning of the week, writing:
We may each value being able to do banking on our local high street, and whilst an increasing number of transactions are done electronically, many of us value having a bank available on our high street, and would be sad and sorry to see it close.
There are increasing numbers in our community who do a different sort of local banking, some depositing food, some withdrawing food and some supporting the running of the food bank with their time and skills. Over the last decade or so, whilst financial banks on the high street have closed, community food banks have grown in number. Whilst they stand as a wonderful tribute to care, generosity and compassion in the community, that there has been a growing need for them over the last decade is an indictment of one of the richest nations in the world and a scar on society.
It is wonderful that our church both supports collections and we have members who support the running of the foodbank, too. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the trend could be reversed, such that the need for foodbanks vanishes, leading to them shutting up shop.
The Trussell Trust, the organisation who support a nationwide network of foodbanks, has a vision for the UK of a nation without the need for foodbanks, and they are promoting a campaigning movement entitled ‘Hunger Free Future’ to build a better and more just future.
As a part of this dream they are encouraging people to listen online to a poem entitled ‘Acceptable’ reflecting on what our society now consider a norm, written by a food bank user and voiced by food bank volunteers. It can be accessed here by clicking here: Share the poem – The Trussell Trust or searching for Acceptable – Trussell Trust. I found it a moving experience.
What is a humanitarian campaign for some is a Christian injunction for others, mindful of the words of Jesus as given in Matthew Chapter 25:
I was hungry and you gave me food… truly I tell you that just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.
Having written the above at the beginning of the week, today, Friday, I visited a foodbank. It was a profoundly moving and humbling experience, and witnessed an inspiring picture of community, which made me think again.
Earlier in the week a housebound church member at Elmers End had asked for a home communion and also asked if I might be able to pass some food that she had collected to the local foodbank. We fixed on Friday, so after the visit I took the provisions on to the Living Well Foodbank in Beckenham, which is the one supported by our Elmers End Church, and which was open that lunchtime.
I arrived and found a buzz, a hive of activity with a variety of stations, some bearing tinned and other provisions, a fresh veg and fruit counter and another stall serving soup. I was promptly offered a meal and if I would like any other food. I was treated with an open warmth, felt a welcome guest and had the feeling that had I been in a position to seek support, the volunteers and support staff would have done their best to find it. I reflected, it wasn’t necessarily obvious who was a guest and who was a host, who was a server and who was being served. Around me were groups of folk chatting, enjoying seeing and taking time to see one another, despite the damp and blustery May day.
Having responded to a volunteer that I’d actually come to deliver some food, I was shown where to take it, and had an opportunity to look around. I learnt that the foodbank has continued to serve throughout the pandemic, though their operational procedures have changed. The offer of a sit down meal on a Friday has been replaced with an outside counter with food to go, including on Fridays choice of tasty sounding soups.
The Living Well, based at Holy Trinity Church, Lennard Road, opens three days a week for guests, serves around 100 people on each occasion and has a bank of around 200 volunteers, and receives wide support from the community.
There is no need for an individual to be referred, anyone in need is welcome, and usually on a first visit guests are asked some open questions to ascertain whether there is additional support that they may benefit from. For more than just a foodbank they offer other support including podiatry for tired feet, Christian meditation, art therapy, a community choir, counselling and a benefits and debt clinic. They count themselves an holistic centre, offering care for body, mind and soul. As I wandered around and spoke to some volunteers, I had a real picture of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and the very best of communities. I was tempted into thinking, this isn’t a venture to close down, but to prosper and flourish, for this was community at its very best. But then I remember just why places like the Living Well, and the Vine Foodbank in Addington are necessary, and it is a justice issue.
That evening I reflected that I still want the reasons for the need for foodbanks to go, it is a basic issue of justice and human dignity that every person, every child of God has sufficient to eat, but it would be so good to see the living wells flourish as places of community gathering, support, nurture and care, for all, whatever their circumstances.
I am glad to belong to a church which collects and supports their local food bank, and I hope that in the coming times we may also, as a church and as individual members, ask those searching questions of leaders in civil society about what they are doing to end the need for food banks, and when they plan that the need for food banks will end such that the bank can shut up shop. I wonder, too, if there are other ways in which our church can extend its mission to be a living well in the neighbourhood where we are set.
May the God of justice and peace, life and well-being, be with you,
p.s. Flora and I are liaising about arranging a visit to the Vine Foodbank at New Addington too.