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How much help can a food bank really give?

Haydon Spenceley, Team Rector for Emmanuel Church in Northampton, asks how a townie priest can respond to Harvest time and finds himself reflecting on the food banks…

Harvest always strikes me as a strange time of year. Undoubtedly crucial to huge swathes of the world, but when you are a bit of a townie like me, its impact can be somewhat dulled. Its arrival, to me as a Priest at least, marks the end of summer and the beginning of a series of services that in our case at Emmanuel, as well as I know in lots of churches around the country, give us an opportunity to raise the profile of those in our communities who have needs, are isolated, or benefit greatly from the provision of a local Foodbank.

Every year, I find the generosity of people, particularly schoolchildren and their families, at Harvest-time stunning. In my parish we have 15 schools (yes, you did read that right) and many of them use the opportunity to give with outrageous generosity out of what has often been hard-earned, so that others can also benefit. We also have a large number of people who regularly visit our Foodbank Distribution Point. We often feed somewhere in the region of 50 people a week, giving them enough food for three days. They can visit us (or any other local Foodbank) a maximum of three times in a six month period. Meaning that they can gain enough food for nine days in a period of roughly 182.

Foodbank is something you visit when it is necessary, not something you live off. It relies on generous donations from people such as you, reading this. It provides a vital service to a growing number of people who have been disenfranchised, disempowered and all-but-forgotten, it seems, in the rush for winner-takes-all, success at all costs and at the expense of whomever. After all, if we’re poor or struggling in these days of rampant opportunity, it’s all our own fault anyway, right? Right?
Jesus offers a slightly different vision of the ‘natural’ order of things.

“God blesses those who are poor and realise their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
(Matthew 5:3, NLT)

“You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to.”
(Mark 14:7, NLT)

I’ve always been struck by the idea that it is feasible for any of us to become poor, at virtually any moment. However sensible, careful, or frugal we are, it only takes a few poor decisions, either that we make, or that someone else makes about us or on our behalf, for us to find ourselves greatly in need. If you were to become poor, either in spirit or monetarily, how would you hope to be treated? Perhaps we all need to consider that question. It is on the basis of how we decide to respond to such questions and how we act that the true harvest of our lives can only really be judged. If you are a Church-goer, or you had Christian assemblies inflicted on you at school, you might well know the phrase of Jesus’s ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Matthew 9:37). Jesus is talking here about people who will tell those around them the good news about him, that he is the one the world has been waiting for, the one who makes God truly known to people, who brings good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to those who can’t see their way and release to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). This is a vision of life which is so at odds with much of how our society is, it seems, designed to function.

So, I’m left to challenge and question myself: what kind of harvest is my life reaping? So many people have invested in me over the years so that I might be a kind, generous, good-hearted person who puts others first and embodies something of who Jesus is and what I believe he was about. Is that what is coming to pass through my life? Is that how I’ll be remembered?

And what about you? What kind of harvest is your life reaping? You might think all the Bible stuff above is a load of irrelevant nonsense. We can agree to respectfully disagree if you like about God and all that goes with it. There’s often so much baggage that God and church carry as memories and concepts for each of us that we can become closed to the possibility of anything good ensuing from them, less still from ‘organised religion’. But still, working out who your neighbour is and loving them as best you can, expanding the welcome of your table as widely as possible, these seem like good things all of us can do, to me, whatever creed we choose to follow or not. I think it’s better to go down in history as a generous-hearted, open-handed individual than as someone who was fearful of others, mean-spirited, or whatever the opposite of that is.
What do you think?

♦ There are several Foodbank donation points in Northampton, which are always very pleased to receive your generous donations. For more information, visit

I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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