Monday, 8 October 2012

Food banks are for Life, not just for Harvest

Harvest represents not being hungry!

Sadly, we’ve got our work cut out for us and Harvest has just officially been extended: in Scotland today, the fastest growing voluntary sector is in food distribution: Food-banks.

Food-banks are opening all over Scotland and the ones already operational are running out of food as fast as they can get it in. In Alloa, the food-bank there gets up to ten referrals a week – referrals from the Citizens Advice bureau, the Police, Social Services, the Prison Service, Health Visitors and the schools.

Need has increased exponentially. Where they used to see mostly single men, they are now seeing more families. In Arbroath, the local Primary Schools now take it in turns to have a special collection on Fridays because the food-bank found that weekends were when people needed the most help. They struggled to make it through the weekend when the usual routes to assistance were closed. What is going on? How, in the same country where we throw away 566,000 tonnes of food each year, can so many people be going hungry?

From the perspective of the church, there has to be a two-pronged attack. Firstly our neighbours cannot be allowed to go hungry, so we have to step up in communities to make sure that these food-banks are consistently and adequately stocked; BUT and this is an important BUT, we have to continually ask the question – to the Government and to ourselves - how on earth can people be going hungry in Scotland today?

How can there be such incredible gaps between the rich and the poor, how can there be such yawning lags between applying for help and actually receiving it? With high unemployment levels and the introduction of the universal credit system and other benefit changes, there is genuine fear that things are only going to get worse – so we help plug the leaks by supplying food-banks, but we do so while consistently calling for change. Community is connection so we have to work for ways to reach out to those in our community who have fallen through the ever-widening cracks in the economic system we all participate in. Community is connection – we cannot stand by and say the problem is too big – the problem is too big to ignore!  

The Church has often used a phrase purported to Jesus as almost a “get out of jail free” card. When Jesus said “the poor are always with us,” did he mean that we should just accept that as the way it is? The statement could equally be seen as an indictment and a challenge. Do we accept that in a world so technologically advanced that we can speak to someone across the globe in seconds, where medical advancements have banished diseases which used to ravage, where we can genetically modify crops, that we cannot re-adjust our economic system to be more just and equitable - or is it a matter of corporate will? Will we accept hunger on our doorstep or hunger on our global stage? 

Or will we follow the example Jesus left his followers – he fed the hungry, but he also got into a lot of hot water by asking awkward questions to those in authority about why people were hungry and oppressed and compromised.  His words hit home all the more because he put his actions behind his words.

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