In February 2020 I felt called by God to serve our local community. I had seen so much food waste in our local stores and knew of so much food poverty in our small valley. God moved me to approach my pastor with the idea of a church food bank. We prayed about it and began to offer leftover bread, fruit and vegetables from our local supermarkets via Fareshare after church on a Sunday. In March 2020 the work exploded as we went into lockdown. What began as a little table in the back hall of the church, suddenly expanded into a large ministry with dozens of volunteers, including local councillors, our MP, furloughed British Gas drivers and the local parole service. We sourced, supplied, packed, distributed weekly food deliveries to over a thousand homes in our valley.
Although the pandemic is less of a concern, the work continues and is growing with the rising cost of living. We began redistributing fresh food which was past its sell-by date, but have evolved to providing stock such as tinned and packet goods, as well as toiletries and sanitary products. We also take donations for toys for a ‘birthday bank’. We converted the church garage into our Foodshare hub and are now open three mornings a week for anyone to come and help themselves, with a cooked breakfast provided on Saturdays.
Very quickly we saw that whilst many are grateful for the help and the pastoral care that came with it, there were always those who sought to take advantage. We see this in Luke 17, when Jesus healed ten lepers and only one came back to thank him. We don’t serve for thanks, but neither do we serve to be abused. It was disappointing to learn that two of our very regular visitors were filling bags and bags of our fruit and veg and selling it to a local café. The more expensive items that are limited to one per household have been stolen by the tray and we have been verbally abused on several occasions. The greatest let-down came in July 2021. A homeless man with alcohol addiction whom we had been supporting with food, pastoral and emotional support for nearly 18 months, attacked my husband in the face with a rock which necessitated hospital treatment and optician checks.
However, amongst these trials we have given out approximately 100,000 meals through collection and delivery and some of those being supported have become good friends and started attending church services.
It is so easy to become downhearted and suffer compassion fatigue. At times I have had to take a few weeks off simply to attend church and rest and recharge with Jesus. This is so important to consider if you are in a ministry where you are constantly giving to others. Don’t be afraid to do what God calls you to do, but don’t expect everyone to be grateful, polite or honest with you! Be careful with your time, rest often and submit to your church leader’s advice.
In Matthew 26:11 Jesus corrects the disciples when they rebuke a woman for pouring expensive perfume on him. They said it was a waste but Jesus replied, ‘…the poor you will always have with you…’ We must serve those in need but never at the expense of our relationship with Jesus.