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30 November 2012

Banking on the Church?

Banking on the Church?

This weekend, you could spend your time being drawn into conversations about women bishops in the Church of England or gay marriage. Or you could steer the conversation into more fruitful territory. Banking wouldn't normally be that topic, but how about a good news story about the Church and banking? Or a bad news story about society, depending on your view.

The Church boasts a better branch network than the Post Office. Every inch of England is served by a parish priest, and while the Twitterati wring their hands in Westminster, local churches up and down the country are quietly serving God in their local communities. One tragic leap in demand for their services is in the area of banking - foodbanking - for those who would otherwise have to go without a meal.

Fewer than 5 per cent of those who use foodbanks are homeless. Most of them are ordinary families with cashflow problems from rising bills, spiralling debt, or delayed benefit payments. Many are suffering from unexpected sickness, bereavement, or unemployment.

Feed my sheep? (John 21:17). In partnership with churches, the Christian charity The Trussell Trust runs the only national network of foodbanks in the UK. Since 2010, demand for foodbanks has grown exponentially, with three new ones being launched every week. Now, there are 285 of them, operating from Inverness to Cornwall. They operate under a social franchise model, with 3,700 local churches and 3,000 schools working together collaboratively to alleviate hunger in their area.

In 2008, the foodbanks fed 26,000 nationwide. In the last six months alone, 110,000 people have used them, doubling last year's take-up. This is set to double again as austerity bites, fuel bills rise, and the welfare budget shrinks. This is a national scandal. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat (Matt 25:42).

Feed my lambs? (John 21:15). According to Oxfam, a shocking one in three children live below the poverty line in the UK. Research commissioned by Save the Children shows that 61 per cent of parents in poverty have had to cut back on food, and that 26 per cent have skipped meals in the past year.

The foodbanks provide a minimum of three days' emergency food to people in crisis. Most of this is donated by the public. This year, 2.25 million people have given either food, time or money to the foodbanks. Every recipient is referred by a front-line care worker, like a doctor, a social worker, or a schools liaison officer. As well as emergency food, the foodbanks point clients to other agencies, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.

St Pancras Church is one of the many churches busy collecting food, for the local Camden foodbank. Volunteers stand in the flow of commuters flooding south from Kings Cross, Euston and St Pancras, handing out shopping lists. Dorothea Hackman, churchwarden of St Pancras Church, said: "If just 10 people passing each day brought one item each, we'd have enough food to feed five more families until the end of the month."

So when you are saying grace this weekend, remember the work of The Trussell Trust. More practically, why not add some extra staples to your next shop, and drop them off at your local foodbank? To make it even easier to start off your Advent by easing a family's hunger, this weekend (1 and 2 December) you can donate food at your local Tesco. Like the CofE, they have every postcode covered, and will top up your donation by 30 per cent. Loaves and fishes may be too perishable, but cereal and tinned tuna will do.

Dr Eve Poole, associate faculty at Ashridge Business School