“You can’t have a chocolate biscuit, its Lent”
I find myself telling my children this daily, even though I know that the true meaning of lent isn’t about seeing how many days we can go without treats, but about nourishing our spiritual journey.
But today I saw a quote from a recipient of one of our supermarket vouchers:
“Thank you so much, this is a great help. The children are really feeling it now and we are able for the first time, in a long time, to buy the children a small treat”
It was a reminder that, being able to give up some indulgent food for lent, is itself a privilege, a reminder that I have more than I need.
Some might say that, as a charity, we should only be providing the essentials, but we don’t mind if some of the vouchers we supply are used to buy kids sweets and chocolates.
Of course, we are not endorsing unhealthy eating! But being able to buy treats for children is something parents should be able to choose to do – to be able to celebrate a special occasion, or cheer someone up with an ice-cream or a cake is part of family life. That is why we would prefer to see vouchers given to families to replace free school meals in the school holidays. – Or better still, to increase the basic income for all families, so that no one has to rely on food banks or vouchers. Being able to choose what we eat is a freedom that shouldn’t be restricted to those whose income is above a certain threshold.
The vision of the Caritas Food Collective, is not simply to see that every child and every adult in the diocese of Westminster, has enough food to sustain life – but that through the provision of food, we can also strengthen community. Food can be a common bond between people. It brings people together – into a place where hope can be nourished. Ideas can be shared which might just help people who are struggling to find a way forward.
“Lets go out for a meal” – It has been a long time since any of us have heard that invitation. We are hoping and praying that in the coming months we might be able to gather again, albeit for picnics and barbecues in the first place. “The food was good, the company was good” – these two things go together.
A family who can’t afford food, can also lack the means to make good friends.
Imagine the Last Supper without food. Or, as an amusing image I saw during Holy Week last year, the Last Supper as a Zoom meeting! With the disciples watching, but not participating.
The original Passover, was of course, a last supper too. It was the last meal the Israelites had before their epic journey across the desert, eating only Manna – food provided as essential nourishment only. The first meal prepared from the first harvest in the promised land must have been something! The Israelites knew that they no longer needed the “hand out” of Manna from heaven, but could be self-sufficient. The were able to build community again in their new home.
It seems that we are still on the journey. With our partners we have distributed around £180,000 in food vouchers and are still seeing more people coming forward for support from the food projects across the diocese. Food banks associated with our parishes have doubled in the last 12 months. But our journey will, in time, see the need for hand outs reduce as people are given a hand-up! Dozens of people from projects across the diocese have signed up for our Road to Resilience programme, and will learn how to better support people in the long-term, to sign-post them to organisations who can help with their specific needs.
This time next year, we hope to be able to see more people able to share meals, celebrate with friends and treat themselves and their children to the (occasional) chocolate or sweet.
It all starts – and ends – with food.
Louise Cook is the Caritas Westminster Communications Officer