After a lot of planning, Simon Bowkett of Grace Christian Community in Llandeilo, South Wales tells us of how they are putting together a mobile foodbank.
Like a lot of churches in rural areas Grace Christian Community has a regular meeting place – ours is a lounge in a sheltered housing development – but this can never be the main focus on what we do to serve our community the way God wants us to. The area we cover is too vast, the population too dispersed, and transport too difficult.
In rural areas you have to travel to provide the face to face engagement (the youth club we run is 15 miles away!) – but you also have to go where the people go. In this area that means the livestock markets which attract people from rural communities right across the bottom half of Wales. As we are actively involved in agriculture we are able to offer an informed and farmer-friendly Christian presence in our rural communities. We can also help out from time to time with day to day farming operations when a need arises!
It is through this outreach we have seen the need for food help increase over the past few years. In our rural communities there is both a low level of access to services and a great reluctance to ask for help that may be genuinely needed, and social service referrals cannot be relied on to meet the need. For this reason we have decided to set up an independent foodbank and have written a shopping list of things we need. We are not quite there yet but things are coming together. We feel the independent model makes more sense in our particular rural culture. Given that it costs on average £80/week to live in rural areas* people in rural areas on state benefits are significantly worse off than their urban counterparts. A particular problem is amongst working (rather than out of work) families in our part of Wales.
Because we are so privileged to be deeply engaged in the community and because trust levels are so high we will be able to identify those in real need or have people referred to us by their friends and neighbours. In a town this approach is likely to be abused but we believe that the nature of the community is so strong that it will 'self-police'.
After a lot of searching, praying and with the help of Simon Mattholie we secured a trailer through Rural Ministries' link with Garstang Free Methodist Church. The donor trailer had been an exhibition trailer, and was equipped with seating and had been used for a youth outreach. Although in need of some repairs it was just what we needed and was the first step in setting up the mobile foodbank. It also gave us the progress we needed to attract other support and a Christian Trust has kindly given us the resources to buy a Land Rover to pull the trailer.
There is a truly welcome, growing understanding amongst the most missionally minded big churches in the urban centres of the needs in rural areas and we are currently working with some to facilitate the flow of food and financial donations. With their help, a charity to manage the foodbank is being set up and we are looking to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). We have thankfully just secured the help we needed in doing this.
In order to address hunger it is important to address debt and we are increasing the number of our team trained (by Christians Against Poverty) to give personal debt advice. We have also been linked with the Farm Community Network locally over a long while to help people with business advice. For us the foodbank project is a missional outreach as well
as a way of relieving hunger. A rural mission training centre preparing people for service at home and overseas is being established alongside the work at Grace in co-operation with the Porterbrook Institute. Our first interns are due to arrive in September.
We will keep you informed of Grace Christian Community's progress through Praise & Prayer News and through our monthly e-news.