50 Ways to Close a Foodbank

I posted a link to a Guardian post including this video in last week's Saturday Supplement, but it is worth posting in its own right.



On the same day I also retweeted a friend's post about news of a new foodbank opening in Dennistoun, Scotland a week or so ago saying "With each new foodbank I don't know whether to cheer or weep."
That is not just because of the appalling need/generous response dichotomy, but also because of the refusal of some establishing foodbanks to engage their brains as well as their hearts. I was at an event on Thursday night past where our President, Heather Morris said that she longed for a day when Christians do not throw up their hands and say "I'm not a theologian". As Christians we need to think theologically - bring "God words" to bear on the world in which we find ourselves. But we also have to think politically - not necessarily party politically (though at times that is necessary, and perhaps the only way that individual Christians can make an impact). We have to not only, as Martin Luther King said, drag the accumulating bodies out of the river, but we need to go upstream and find out who is throwing them in in the first place, and why - and do all that we can to stop them... We can't simply continue to treat our neighbours who get beaten up on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, we need to make it a safer road...
Around 6 years ago I led a team of ministers on a fact-finding mission to the US looking at how the church and government could work effectively together to address need even in the context of the separation of church and state - and everywhere we went we saw an amazing volunteer-ethic and the ubiquity of foodbanks. Patronisingly we said, "Well done - but we wouldn't need that in the UK with our Welfare State." I was only home a week when I received my first request for food aid and made my first contact with Storehouse...
But the big critique of many of the local faith-based programmes in the US, especially the foodbanks, was that they did not get involved in advocacy/lobbying - they left that to community organisers or nationally groups like sojourners... They didn't want to get drawn into the toxic environment of politics.
Last week I had that same discussion with an advocate for social action from one of the newer churches here in NI... Their laudable commitment to the poor of our society went as far as meeting their immediate need for food and money management and perhaps offering them a leg up regarding training and employment, but did not see it as the church's role to "meddle in politics". At worst such an approach produces a dependency culture, trapping people in poverty just as surely as the benefits trap can do... at best it is a reiteration of the old phenomenon of "evangelical lift-off" where we "rescue" individuals and their families, allowing them to get up and out of their particular need - but also often, out of their local situation... Leaving others in exactly the same situation, reducing the social capital of the local area little by little, and deepening local pockets of poverty...
We need a thorough-going Christian critique of the political and economic world that produces such pockets of poverty... including challenging the government and local authorities when they try to twist facts and figures to cover up the problem. But we also need a whole-hearted commitment of churches to community development... I've said it before, if we are called as Christians to love our neighbours, then as churches we must love our neighbourhoods - and that should be a love not only of heart and hand - but also of head... really thinking through, theologically and politically what will really make a difference our local communities. Not simply doing good things for local people, but doing good with local people.
Lets put as much effort into closing foodbanks as we do to opening them...

For those interested in taking this further, you could check out the Demos toolkit, or if you are in NI contact Diane Holt at Tearfund or Ken Humphrey at CCWA... Other resources and agencies are available...

Shalom

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