An exclusive report by Guardian.co.uk has revealed that almost a fifth of households with children have been unable to access enough food in the past five weeks, with meals being skipped and children not getting enough to eat as already vulnerable families battle isolation and a loss of income. This insight is sourced from new data by the Food Foundation, which indicates that of the 621,000 children who were accessing free breakfast clubs before the pandemic, only 136,000 are being provided with an alternative. However, 31 per cent of children entitled to free school meals are still not getting any substitute, leaving more than 500,000 children going without.
This was always the fear for those supporting vulnerable children and their parents when lockdown was initiated; that these families would suffer from severe lack (in all aspects) when the support of services, charities and individuals confined to their homes was removed. Not only would isolation affect the basic human rights of many disadvantaged families – the right to food, health, safety, housing etc. – but they would also be cut off from the love and concern of those invested in reaching out to these children and their parents.
And so the question that we were asking pre-COVID remains, only with increased urgency: in theses extraordinary times, whose job is it to support those who are in desperate need?
At Kids Matter, we believe that the church has been called to the frontline – offering itself to the least the last and the lost, in answer to a biblical mandate. What does this look like in lockdown? – When many churches have furloughed staff and might be struggling to galvanise their own congregations never mind reach out into the community? It’s a valid question, and the best answer is perhaps to look at what others are doing.
The need in London’s Tower Hamlets estate on the Isle of Dogs (also the poorest borough in the city) in this lockdown period has been tremendous, so much so that local church St Luke’s Millwall transforms into a food bank every morning from Monday to Thursday to provide for families:
We have an awesome group of volunteers for our new food bank, including a redeemed addict; the partner of a mum who was in my second Kids Matter group (when their relationship was very tricky and now is better). The couple has been part of our holiday clubs and toddler group for four years and now he is driving round East London collecting food for us from Nando’s to share out! Also volunteering is a mum whose husband has finally got a job but they were using a local food bank themselves this past year, and Patience, the awesome Ghanaian mum with gorgeous smile who is on the Kids Matter banner!
Gave out 50 bags of food yesterday; mostly fresh stuff from charity donations!
Fuzz Dix, who has also run umpteen Kids Matter pragrammes with mums and dads living in the Tower Hamlets estate, has continued to reach out to parents by running Babies Matter (Kids Matter’s new parenting programme that is currently being trialled in two areas in the UK) via zoom. Fuzz says:
Had our BM zoom group today, 40 mins reviewing what we could remember of session 2 (which we did in that other, pre-lockdown lifetime), and one mum said, ‘Our relationship has totally changed. It is so different.’
I had session 3 of my Babies Matter group on Zoom today, and all my guests managed to join (apart from the one whose waters broke yesterday). We did an hour, covering half the session, and at the end one mum said, ‘I feel much better because I thought I didn’t know how to bond with my baby but now I realise I’ve been doing the right things already’. Another mum said ‘this has really helped me realise I don’t need to fill all our time but can just spend time looking at [my baby] and that helps us bond’.
‘The mum in my Babies Matter group who was homeless after giving birth two weeks ago has been housed in temp accommodation near to the Isle of Dogs. This is pretty much a miracle as the housing around here is so hard to get (we have had several families moved out to Essex or Kent) so having this new mum so nearby is amazing. One of the other Babies Matter mums has donated all of her baby clothes to her; we have taken her nappies and food from the food bank, and tomorrow I am taking her pots, pans and plates donated by one of the mums from my ‘Monday Mums Group’ who herself has not much, but a huge heart.
What is so utterly incredible about these stories is the way members of the community have rallied around one another. This is what can happen when the church immerses itself in community – through practical provision and emotion and relational support.
Every church is facing its own challenges and yet in the midst of it all, we are called to be present in our contexts. What might that look like for you and for your church?
Thank you Fuzz and St Luke’s – you inspire us all.
If you’d like to find out more about Kids Matter or would like to get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on our IMPACT, click here.
New data from the Food Foundation shows more than five million people living in households with children under 18 have experienced food insecurity after just a month of lockdown – CLICK HERE for more information.