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Shaun Speller writes about the FoodBank Tree at St Nicholas’ Christmas Tree Festival, and considers our response to those in need.

This week at St Nicholas, we host the Christmas tree festival.
Nearly 70 trees, brightly and wonderfully decorated, by any number of groups in our local community. One of the trees makes what I imagine is a first appearance – the FoodBank Tree.

I suspect it will not have escaped our attention that Food Poverty is one of those unwelcome terms that occupies us today. The Trussell Trust, a christian charity responsible for founding many FoodBanks throughout the country, estimates that some 350,000 people used them in the last year, a threefold increase in the preceding period. They are springing up all over the country, and their use is on the increase.

So what do we make of them?

Well we can draw the political lines in the sand and argue over whose fault it all is – lack of personal responsibility, or the damaging effect of government policy – but that doesn’t really deal with the immediacy of the issue, and in fact risks ignoring those directly affected by it. And it doesn’t acknowledge that all of those 350,000 people have a story – a personal story that reaches beyond the categorization of the broad issue. You might want to take a look at some of those personal stories: real-stories.

In Matthews recounting of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus has an
instant response to the crowd that have followed him and find themselves in
need of food.

Firstly, he has compassion on them; and then secondly, when
the disciples come to him and suggest that the crowd be sent away to find
food, Jesus says: “ They need not go away: You give them something to eat ”.
What’s Jesus saying here? There is no prevarication; no absolving of
responsibility; no reproach for the crowd. Instead he asks the disciples to be
part of a solution, rather than to pass on a problem that they think they are ill
equipped to deal with.

Shortly before embarking on a short term building project in Nepal some years ago, I was struck by the abject poverty and hunger that I was confronted with. Like the disciples faced with the needs of the five thousand, I asked my team leader what on earth do we do about it.
“ Well ”, he said, “ we feed one at a time, and then we feed the
next ”.

The point is this. Questions might be our first reaction, but need not be our
first action.
In Christ’s physical absence we might do well to hear afresh the
words of Theresa of Avila:
“ Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

Our hands, as with those of Jesus’ disciples, are the hands by which he may
bless others. As a community of God’s people, we have recognised the issue
of food poverty and are generously looking to offer our time and money to be
a tangible blessing to others. We would hope, beautiful though it may look,
that there be no need to display the FoodBank Tree again. But Christ calls us
to be watchful, and to respond, with the compassion that he had for those he
saw in need; that all his people might flourish as is his intention.