I watched the excited little faces of the children in their crisp uniforms and shoes, with their new lunchboxes and backpacks walk proudly into the school as I drove past. It was the first day of the new school year and the school gates were swarming with families waving their children off. I thought of my own son, due to start pre-school at the end of the week, and a familiar lump formed in my throat as I thought of how much I would miss him on the mornings he was there.
My sentimentality was quickly debunked by a flashback to a statistic I’d read a few weeks earlier. I remembered that for some parents across our region, the overriding emotion of today’s ‘back to school’ experience would be one of sheer relief. Not because of their desire to be free of the childcare binds of the summer holidays but because, at least when they’re at school, their children wont go hungry.
Food poverty is a very real issue in our region. Research shows that 1 in 5 British parents skip a meal themselves in order to feed their children in the school holidays. A recent report by Tesco, Trussell Trust and Fareshare reported that “70% of families suffering from food poverty with children in primary school education rely in some part on food supplied by schools, either through free school meals or food given out by breakfast or after school clubs.”
No wonder some parents are happy when the term starts again. At least this way, their entire family will get to eat.
5 years ago when those leading the Dudley Youth Churches network, a relational group of church youth leaders from across the borough, were told about the challenges that many families face during the school holiday, they knew that something had to be done. Surely young people could play their part in working to meet this need? Although young people weren’t necessarily able to work in food banks or visit families, there is something that young people are good at: gathering together and having a great time.
Flash forward to a warm July Saturday evening in 2016 at Netherton Arts Centre. The band were rehearsing on the main stage, the stewards were taking tickets, and the food bags were beginning to mount up. There were so many bags that they had to be moved because of a health and safety risk. Was this a concert? Was it a food donation event? It was both, and it was neither. It was the return of One Heart Sound, a worship event with a cause – where the entry cost is a bag of food.
Tim Barton, a member of the One Heart Sound team and a leader at Amblecote Christian Centre said “the great thing about One Heart Sound is that it gives young people a real, simple, practical way that they can meet an actual need in their community. It’s so good to witness the passion of those who gather to make a difference in a very practical way. The evening itself is a brilliant night, but it’s almost a by-product of what God is doing through people recognising a need, and then being willing to do something about it.”
On the night Tim Bamber from Champions Church, Netherton, spoke to encourage all of those listening, from the youngest to the oldest, to step out and do whatever God has called them to do. It was an inspired and impassioned plea for the emerging generation in churches across the borough to understand the call of God for the Church to reach out to the needy.
The event raised 1.6 tonnes of food and £315, which was given to Black Country Food Bank and Munch Club, two fantastic organisations working to distribute food in the area.
Families supported by the Munch Club have been greatly touched by the support they have been offered over the summer. One parent touchingly explained that “the bread you gave us each week meant that I could give my kids toast for breakfast.” Another said “the food bags (provided by the Munch Club) were helpful – sometimes we did not have food and we used the food bags to eat”.
Clearly this is a need that isn’t just going to go away and the OHS team are very aware that they are just scratching the surface. “We’re not trying to be saviours, and we know that what we do is relatively small compared to the vast need in our community,” explained Tim Barton. “However, if individuals will step up and begin to see this as all of our responsibility, then, working with some great organisations like Foodbank and Munch Club, we believe that this need can be met.”
There are already plans for a similar event next summer. Watch this space, One Heart Sound – worship with a cause – is on the move!
If you’d like to donate food to the needy in our region, you can do so at one of the many Black Country Food Bank outposts. Click here to find your nearest one.
On behalf of Love Black Country.