Arrested for distributing food to the hungry

Faith Matters by Robin Gurney, of Churches TogetherLeighton Linslade...

Have you indulged/ felt stuffed over the Christmas period?

Unfortunately it seems that an increasing number of our fellow citizens don’t have that choice. A report “Feeding Britain’ – the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom” appeared in December and highlighted the massive increase in the use of food banks. It painted the other side to the indulgent festive period.

The report was financed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Trust and claims that hunger stalks large parts of our country. The Archbishop himself said that he was more shocked by the plight of a family he met at a food bank in England than the suffering he witnessed on a recent trip to Africa, because it was so unexpected. 

The membership of the group reporting included two Conservative and two Labour MPs, a Conservative Peer and the Bishop of Truro. They sought evidence widely and over 200 organisations including food banks, schools, charities and churches responded. The Baptist Union, The Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church submitted joint evidence.

Multiple reasons for the dire phenomenon highlighted in the report include: difficulties in getting benefits, the increases in cost of food, fuel and rents, and wages below the living wage level.

How can these problems be overcome? One suggestion is that supermarkets should be encouraged to give more food from their surpluses to those administering to the poor rather than it going to landfill. While commending that suggestion it seems to me that this is dealing with the results of the problem rather than the cause. 

While the value of the work of food banks is much appreciated, I agree with one commentator who suggested it would be better not to live in a society where the poorest can only survive on the leftovers of others. Far better for people in work to earn enough to afford to buy their own food and ensure that no-one be forced into destitution for being ill, disabled or down on their luck.

While we await our government’s response to the report, I recall that in the United States recently three people – a 90-year-old man and two pastors – were arrested in Florida for feeding the homeless.

As they distributed food to hungry people, a police officer yelled “Drop that plate immediately!” before arresting them. Each face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine under the city’s new anti-homeless law. How can acts of compassion be a criminal offence?

The Bible repeatedly calls us to feed and care for the hungry, a call that many in this country respond to daily.

I have written previously on local church-related activities around this subject but just to note that before Christmas I saw that the regular supermarket trolley placed to collect food for the homeless in our town had been extended to three trolleys overflowing with gifts. Such is the generosity of our citizens.

May I wish all readers a Happy New Year and one where hunger no longer stalks this land.