There’s the shopping trolley at church each week – we can fill that up with dried foods for the Basics Bank – and a big thank you to everyone who does that. That gives some individuals and families a vital lifeline.
You could join the Beacon, and help serve at their drop-in meals every 6-8 weeks in the Parish Hall. They’re building up a regular community of people who are struggling financially. (They do much more than that, but that’s one aspect of their work.)
And we already support SCRATCH – a wonderful Southampton charity who run the Dorcas Project (providing furniture and white goods to people in need) and Fareshare (distributing surplus food from supermarkets to schools and projects around the city who can target them towards those most in need).
I took a visit to see Fareshare in action. First stop – SCRATCH HQ down by the river. Kitted out in my hi-viz jacket and steelies (steel toe-capped shoes), I was ready to rumble. The van (brand new – they’re being sponsored by Ocado for three years) was already loaded with two pallets of food, packed up by the busy warehouse team.
Whilst Jill drove us to the Flowers estate, we chatted.
Q: What sort of projects does she deliver to?
A: Several schools in the Shirley area, to help them with breakfast and after school clubs and the like.
Q: What got her involved in the work?
A: She’d found herself near retirement age, unable to get a job. She heard of Scratch and thought she’d try volunteering. She started off as half a day a week. She now does 3 half days, including driving the van.
Q: What do her friends make of her?
A: They’re envious that she’s able to do it whilst they’re still working!
We arrived at the Flower Garden – current base of Bob Light, a convicted drug dealer who was converted to Christ years ago and now runs Flowers of Justice church and is unofficial pastor to the estate. Whilst unloading 30 big crates of food, he tells me that it’ll all be gone by this evening. Two ladies will help him bag it all up, then they’ll deliver it to 70-100 needy families on the estate. It’s good fresh food (including venison and other delicacies!), but with a short shelf-life.
Those families are able to eat much more healthily as well as learning cooking skills. There’s an Italian chef living rough at the moment – if Bob and his team get better premises, they might house him and get him working for them to help with that. Through the love that Bob and the team at Flowers of Justice have shown over the years, many have become Christians.
Back to the base to unload the empty crates. Time for a 2-minute chat with Mike Smith, member of our congregation and general manager of SCRATCH, in-between his meetings.
Q: How’s the project going?
A: It’s tight for money – the demand is outstripping supply of good food. They’re putting in yet more funding bids. They’re at a size where they’re too big to get grants for small charities, but too small to get the big grants.
Q: How’s it going with the volunteers?
A: 170 volunteers coming in regularly. A recently appointed volunteer development person has helped volunteers to work on their CVs and apply for suitable jobs. So far about 8 volunteers have now got paid employment. So even those doing the helping are being helped (Didn’t Jesus say, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive”?).
That was certainly backed up by a quick chat with a volunteer I recognised – she’d been a few times to St James’ by the Park and goes regularly to the Beacon drop-in meals with her partner and the child they look after. They’d experienced homelessness. Now he helps at the Dorcas project and is growing in confidence at what he can do. She helps with Fareshare and loves cooking for the volunteers. After a really rough stage in their lives, this is helping them find their feet.
And then a chance to sit down with Claire, who helps manage the Fareshare volunteers – the one who got me kitted up in hi-viz and steelies. Before the very first Fareshare delivery from Tescos, she wondered how they would ever deliver it all. Now over 170 projects receive deliveries regularly (including our own Superstars).
Before she started this job, she knew about food poverty, but didn’t really understand it. Then she went to Bob Light’s place. She met a young family who’d walked from Shirley because they heard they could get breakfast there. “That can’t be right” she thought. And now she’s completely committed to the Fareshare cause.
Q: What more could we do as a local church to support SCRATCH?
A: Two things: 1. Tell people they can come and volunteer (including on Saturdays) – whether it’s helping with paperwork or sorting food or driving vans. Come down and have a look. Go on a van and talk with the people who receive this food. Hear the stories about the difference it makes – about how children are attending school more because of the food they get; about how families are able to cope whilst they wait 8 weeks for their benefits to come through.
2. Get involved with a holiday hunger project like MakeLunch [which is something we have been considering as a church]. One school ran a project which they thought would attract 15 children over the long summer holiday. 75 came regularly. Now the parents are wanting to get involved and help this year.
I left thankful that we’re able to support SCRATCH’s great ministry in our city; thankful for the great volunteers and staff there; thankful that food waste and food poverty are being addressed in our nation more than before; thankful for Christians like Bob Light who brings Kingdom culture to many on the Flowers estate; thankful for Mike Smith and Ian Dowdell and others who bring a Kingdom culture to SCRATCH. And yes, with some questions about whether some of the work creates a dependency culture. But as Claire said, “We all depend on food, don’t we? We’re helping people survive.”
Why don’t you pay a visit? You’ll hear some harrowing stories and wonderful stories - and be hugely encouraged at what God is doing through SCRATCH.
Dan and co.
Dan is vicar of St James' by the Park. Some blog posts are by him; others are by members of the congregation - with one or two guest posts thrown in for good measure!