News from Hythe Salvation Army and community centre
We received this news report and reflection on 5th May from Captain Callum McKenna of Hythe Salvation Army Church & Community Centre:
Things are going OK our end and, without jumping on a bandwagon- if 'unprecedented' was the word for April then I think 'New Normal' is the word for May... there's definitely become a new rhythm particularly with the foodbank, which is where we seem to be slotting in locally- and picking up the calls to the hub that are perhaps more vulnerable or, rather, vulnerable for other reasons than COVID (need economic support etc). We're also seeing increased referrals from other agencies- Hythe Bay School/Social Services etc. The grant from the Ann Pierson Trust has literally been a lifeline in helping to ensure the supply of food is maintained and in making sure donated food goes further but, actually, the thing that (cash grants) have been really useful for is giving people some dignity. We're seeing people come to the foodbank who've never thought they'd find themselves in that situation before and the thought that they can choose their own food and shop normally has been such a sense of relief to people.
The foodbank is actually, in ordinary times, quite a small part of our worshipping and community life. It's happened for 100 years and has really been giving food to those in need as it arises. For perspective, in 2019 we supported an average of 6 households per week with food which in the scale of food banks probably isn't enormous, although it's always proved useful for those in our community who have found themselves needing it. In April this year we provided food to 83 households- so in percentage terms it's a gigantic increase. That said, whereas that could have been overwhelming (combined with all of the difficulties March and April bought in actually being able to buy food) we've seen the need matched by the generosity of local people (including members of St. Leonards for sure!) and businesses. Physical food donations through the collection point at Sainsburys are up, and there have been financial donations to make up the shortfall. A rise in volunteers has meant that we've been able to stay open on a Wednesday morning as usual, but also offer deliveries during the week (which helps with social distancing and for those self isolating). The worry for me is that the foodbank will be needed long after 'lockdown' is over, especially if there's a long term economic impact. There's been a huge amount of goodwill in these early days, the concern is just to keep the momentum on this!
My whole working life has been spent in 'caring' / people type jobs and I've never seen generosity on this scale before. I've also never seen fear or anxiety on this scale too, particularly in those who come forward needing support. Something strange has happened quite a few times on the end of the phone or when delivering food parcels - people have cried...It's an interesting observation that needs some further reflection. I'd also say that the reasons why people are accessing the foodbank have shifted. There's a definite increase in the number of families needing support. The most common reason in the past was either running out of money or a benefits sanction. At the moment, the delay in payment of universal credit is a big thing, as is people surviving on 80% of their income but with fixed costs remaining the same. The most difficult cases, I guess, have been those who are self employed: in the third week of the pandemic, someone's neighbour tipped us off to someone whose income depends on weddings; at home with children, all of her work cancelled and nothing in the cupboards...
I think, in terms of help- my heart is always for collaboration, especially ecumenically. Beyond the obvious practical resources of food, there's always a wider conversation to be had about how we make this the most effective witness for the town. I've also, personally, got a bit of a heavy heart about it at the moment- because I really don't want it to become a public utility or an act of vague charity. It's very much part of our service and witness. On one hand, it's part of the discipleship of our church community- it's an expression of the kindness we've encountered in Christ, and an opportunity to be ministered to by the 'other'. On the other hand, it's an opportunity to demonstrate what God's kingdom looks like to those who haven't perhaps encountered it before.
It raises the wider question (which, I recognise, there's little originality in asking at this time...) How do we be the Church in this time?! How do we (the royal we!) be the Church for and with Hythe? How do we offer real hope!? I read a few years ago Rodney Starks 'The Rise of Christianity' which is a sociological perspective on why the Church grew and one of the reasons he cites is the way Christians dealt with plague and famine- people found it attractive. I think this is a particular conversation we should be picking up!!
The Parish of St Leonard, Hythe