The problem of hunger is becoming a growing crisis in England and Wales. In the past twelve months more than 1,100,000 emergency food supplies have been given to people suffering food poverty by Trussell Trust foodbanks, which highlights the extent of the problem. To add to this, hospital admissions for malnutrition in England almost doubled between 2008 and 2013 and continue to grow.
In its Awareness campaign entitled ‘Who Cares?’, the Catholic charity St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) is raising awareness of the problem of hunger and showing how the charity’s 8,000 volunteer members care for adults and children experiencing food poverty every day.
SVP members help combat food poverty in a variety of ways. SVP groups attached to churches appeal for food donations from parishioners and make up emergency food parcels for families in need in their communities. Last year SVP members gave out food parcels on over 25,000 occasions. Similar collections are also made by Mini Vinnies – the youngest branch of the SVP made up of primary school children.
SVP members also help run foodbanks across the country handing out food and emergency supplies to hungry people who come forward for help. Participating in soup runs helps meet the need for food for hundreds of homeless people while Christmas hampers are another way that SVP members help hungry families make ends meet, particularly during the often challenging festive season.
Drawing on their expertise, the SVP recently participated in a government led food poverty enquiry Feeding Britain, providing consultation and case studies on the extent of the problem in this country.
Thousands of people in need receive help and comfort in the form of food and friendship every year from the SVP. However, it isn’t just the charity’s beneficiaries who benefit from the SVP’s work. Members grow and develop through helping others as well.
One such example is Lorna, a member of the Oxford University SVP who has been active in combatting food poverty amongst the homeless. Lorna explains: ‘As a student it is very easy to fall into the trap of self-absorbed auto-pilot mode, with essays due in, meetings to attend, and friends to catch up with. Volunteering with the SVP does not automatically change this mind-set, nor does it make yourself feel better as a neat and tidy way to serve others once a week, but what it does do is constantly challenge you. It leaves you thinking of that modern buzzword, ‘closure’, but with no hope of ever attaining it.
“Homelessness is such a huge problem in our society and it’s easy to see a soup run as a worthy but ultimately selfish venture – to stop me from feeling guilty. When I work for the SVP I see the issues are more and more complex than I initially thought. On one level, seeing a few regular faces each week, and knowing how many sugars someone would like in their tea, without needing to ask, gives me a connection with people I would not otherwise have had the privilege of meeting.
“Constantly making sure that I am not being patronising, overcoming the seemingly insurmountable gulf between my life of ease and the hell that those people who live on the streets endure, is sometimes as simple as a cuppa. The SVP has changed me, not in that it makes me a better person, but simply that it enables me to serve others. I don’t often think about God or my faith on the soup run – I’m too busy fumbling about with the instant coffee. Nevertheless, I am grateful to all those I meet for jolting me out of my comfort zone, for switching me off auto-pilot.”
Members like Lorna come from all walks of life, old and young alike. All members adopt the Christ centred and compassionate outlook that is at the heart of the SVP. They put their faith into action to help people in need and find a practical outlet to express their love and care through their voluntary work.
Throughout September the SVP’s ‘Who Cares?’ campaign will focus on loneliness, hunger, material poverty and sickness – all areas that the SVP cares about and is active in. If you would like to join or support the SVP please telephone 0207 703 3030, visit svp.org.uk or email [email protected]