Meanwhile, yesterday, I spent a morning with Sue Wall, who runs Milton Keynes Food Bank. I’ve often noticed the food pantry ministryies of US Churches and wondered why they didn't happen more in the UK. Perhaps, I thought, it’s because the welfare state means the need is less. That’s a nice thought, but way off base with reality.
It’s a disturbng fact, but even in an outwardly prosperous city like MK, many ordinary people, especially at times of crisis, struggle to feed themselves and their families. We live in a welfare state, but the largest single cause of temporary need is delay in benefit payment; for example if someone on benefit gets a part time job, it can take two weeks and more whilst benefit is adjusted, whilst they have no money coming in at all.
MK Food Bank provides a limited number (up to 6) short term (3 day) packs of simple but high quality food, made up to a standard nutritional specification. It began as a ministry of MK Christian centre, a thriving non-denominational Church in the city, and now engages all sorts of volunteers, mainly but not exclusively from the whole range of churches.
People are referred through a variety of agencies, and parcels can be collected from various local collection points. The work began in a Church cupboard, moved into a sea container, and now has its own warehouse unit in Stacey Bushes. Food comes from donations, including some from leading supermarkets. Local businesses, especialy Mercedes Benz, whose HQ is in the city, have also backed the project with sponsorship and services. So far this year over 4,400 packs have gone out. MKFB began as part of, and still operates in close collaboration with the Trussell Trust, an Evangelical Christian chatity that fights Poverty, deprivation and despair in the UK and abroad. It was an immensely moving privilage to spend a morning with Sue and some members of her team, to see how many parallel lines our passion run along, and to pray together.
Finally, yesterday, an afternoon teaching in the Business School of the University of Buckingham, where a wonderful colleague, Andrew Lightbown, is conducting fascinating doctoral research with which I’ve been helping into the meaning and dynamic of Agape (Love). After my lecture we reviewed his work together, including an emerging working definition of Charity which struck me as relevant to MKFB, as to all expressions of Christian love in action:
To exercise Charity is to act intentionally to promote wellbeing in solidarity with, and reverential response to the other.