Hugh McNeill of Coventry Foodbank says it’s down to us to decide to change as we emerge from lockdown and enter the ‘new normal’ — to step out and find the need that still remains. It is greater than many of us realise, and will be discovered in surprising places.
The easing of lockdown restrictions could not have come sooner for many. The town centre in Coventry – where I live – was bustling with people yesterday, visiting shops, enjoying a meal indoors and hugging family for the first time in 2021! Yet, with our excitement to get back to normal – will we forget many things lockdown has taught us?
Since the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020 the community spirit in our towns, cities and villages was so present – did you feel that where you live? While people grabbed hold of their daily dose of exercise, suddenly eyes were opened to the needs of the community and complete strangers found themselves stopping on a walk to talk to one another.
There were small acts of kindness everywhere: notes written to neighbours offering help; newspapers and groceries delivered to those who were shielding; prescriptions picked up; many neighbours stood in solidarity out of their doorways as we clapped for the NHS each Thursday.
At the Foodbank we saw a 20% increase in the number of people attending foodbank in the past year, with hundreds of new volunteers stepping up to help this need.
We were a community of servants. A nation serving our communities. Surely, we don’t want to lose our togetherness now the world is opening up step by step. Serving others is core to who we are as Christians, and we should serve from a heart that earnestly seeks to love others as Christ loves us – but is it that easy? Philippians 2:1-5 (Douay-Rheims) says:
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of charity, if any society of the spirit, if any bowels of commiseration: Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment. Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vain glory: but in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves: Each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men’s. For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
There are so many passages in the Bible that speak about serving others, this is just one. Yet, for me, it incapsulates the heart of the servant I want to be. When we recognise that we serve a loving Saviour, then our attitude and how we serve others needs to be in alignment with his. Now, don’t get me wrong I have not always got this right. I, like many, am looking forward to being able to hug friends and family again, to shop with ease, to go to the pub, yet if I put myself first and the welfare and needs of others second, I am not living the truth of that passage, nor am I living out the community I want to see around me.
We have a challenge before us all; are we going to be the communities we long to see?
According to a report released earlier this year, over the course of lockdown, 71% of churches have delivered new services, many in areas of the community they have never been active in before. 5 million meals have been provided to those in need by the church every month since the beginning of the pandemic.
Many with dwindling congregations have seen their numbers swell. Churches have pulled together to provide for the needs of their communities and have done an amazing job of responding to the crisis. If Christ is our example, we need to continue to show his compassion, tenderness, care and servant heart in our neighbourhoods.
At Coventry Foodbank, on a daily basis I meet single mums trying to hold a family together; single men with no family or friends to reach out to; those struggling to come to terms with a bereavement or loss of employment; those waiting for a benefit payment still four weeks away; broken relationships; mental health issues; physical ailments. All of them carry hurt and pain and shame.
The need is still out there.
It’s down to us to decide to change, to step out and find the need that still remains. The action of serving, the decision to act in humility to treat others with a care and compassion most certainly is at the heart of a servant.
World Hunger Day this year, Friday 28th May, is focussing on the holistic care needed to end food hunger, and focussing solutions on community-led projects. Ending poverty is possible when people have the necessary tools and resources and when solutions are community-led — by and for the people living in conditions of chronic hunger.
God looks to us.
This need is our responsibility, and it doesn’t have to be hard. Seeing volunteers at the foodbank just taking the time to listen to people without patronising or judging their situation is so rare for many of those who come in. Foodbanks, soup kitchens, and night shelters could all use more volunteers, not just for practical help but to talk to people, to hear them, to be a friend.
Serving others has become one of the greatest privileges of my life. the people in my communities cannot just matter to God, they have to matter to me too. So, as things open up and “easedown” begins, make a decision to step out, to choose to love and care for those others don’t see.
Hugh McNeill is the Manager of Coventry Foodbank, one of the largest food banks in the UK. Coventry Foodbank, in partnership with Feed The Hungry, provides emergency food for people in crisis across the city of Coventry.
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