End hunger work with a number of different partners who are involved in tackling poverty and fighting for social justice. The Joint Public Issues Team are a cross denominational Christian organisation working for social justice. Andrew Johnston writes in a post originally on their blog on why Lent is a time to turn our thoughts to those going hungry in the UK.
Last week saw the start of Lent, a season within the Church calendar that is often characterised by fasting or self-denial, as we turn our focus away from our own self and towards Christ in preparation for Easter. For those who choose to partake in Lent, it can be a good opportunity to reflect and draw closer to God.
It is perhaps poignant as we begin this journey towards Easter that North Lanarkshire Council have announced that this Easter holiday it will trial a programme that will expand its meal provision for children within the authority to ensure that they have access to food 365 days of the year. Although holidays and fasting are not necessarily things that we readily associate, the phenomenon of hunger during the holidays is sadly altogether too real.
In Scotland, as well as England and Wales, all children at a local council school are entitled to free school lunches in for the first three years of primary school. This provision is extended to older children from low-income families. However, the lack of provision during holidays and weekends leaves a gap. For a developed country the numbers really are quite startling: last July an international report from the United Nations found that 1 in 5 children in the United Kingdom are at risk of hunger, more recent figures from End Hunger UK suggests that 1 in 4 parents in the UK went without meals in order to provide for their child last year, while a recent report from an All-Party Parliamentary Group on hunger found that as many as three million children face the risk of food insecurity over the holidays.
At a local level hundreds of congregations are dealing with food poverty through initiatives such as community meals or foodbanks. Projects such as the one at Ayr Church are directly meeting the issue of holiday hunger. Such projects are urgently needed and are examples of the Church modelling, and bringing forth, the Kingdom of God. Nonetheless, we must recognise that “food poverty” is primarily about a lack of money that families have to feed themselves. And in this regard things like the freeze on benefit (including Child Benefit) are not only unhelpful, but actively contribute to the problem.
Lent is a time of turning away from ourselves and turning towards Christ. Often this is cast as a time in which we withdraw from the world around us, but Lent could just as readily be a call to enter more fully into the world: preparing for Jesus’ act of self-giving with self-giving acts of our own, turning to Christ and encountering Him not at a distance from the world, but in the midst of it, in the faces of those around us. As Jesus says in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’’
So this Lent, as you journey towards Easter, as you turn towards Christ, may you meet Him in the face of those who hunger, may you see Him in the eyes of those who thirst and may you be compelled to enter more fully into God’s world in the manner of Jesus: a manner marked by self-sacrifice and a concern for those who hunger and thirst. May we work towards a world in which children don’t have to go hungry just because it’s the holidays.
To find out more about the issue of food insecurity in the UK and what can be done about it go to: http://endhungeruk.org/