At the height of the pandemic we delivered food to 80 families each week.
We are a small church in Purley, South Croydon. For the last (almost) 5 years we have been running an 'alternative' fortnightly church gathering called Thursday Tea. This is a community meal that has 3 values 'Eat Pray Love' and has attracted a large group of people from our community including those of some faith, those of no faith and also those of other faiths! This has allowed us to have a really big impact in our community because we know so many people in it.
Our work in the community has also attracted the attention of the local council. Late last year, the director of the council's gateway services came to see me and asked if we would be involved in a pilot scheme called 'the one stop food shop'. This scheme involves partnering with the council and Fair Share food charity to open a shop in the church where people will be invited to visit and purchase £20 worth of fresh, chilled, frozen and packet/tinned food that would otherwise be sent to landfill by the manufacturers for only £3.50. All the food is perfectly edible but cannot be sold by supermarkets for a variety of reasons. The council would then send frontline officers from a number of departments to work at the church a couple of days a week so that they can interact face to face with people who come into the shop to buy food with the aim of helping them to sort out benefits, tenancy issues, training or employment.
We had planned to start this project in June, take our time to find the right manager and volunteers to make this happen. However Covid-19 happened and we felt that God was asking us to pull the project forward to get food out to people during this emergency. Within a week of taking this step of faith, we found the person to manage the project and were swamped with volunteers from the local community all wanting to help. As we needed to maintain safe distancing during the pandemic we took the decision to mostly deliver to people in their own homes. At the height of the pandemic we delivered to 80 families each week.
Now that the lockdown has eased, demand has slightly reduced and we have been encouraging as many people as possible to visit the church in person to choose their own food (putting all the necessary measures in place to keep things safe). We still deliver to around 20 shielding families via our amazing volunteers and have around 30 people visit the shop each week. One of our volunteers has kindly agreed to take over the administration of the project, freeing us from this task and just this week, Croydon Council the council arranged for contractors to come to the church and construct shelving in an un-used room of the church at no cost to us at all, which now means that the Food Stop has a purpose built, permanent shop space for people to visit each week and our main hall is free to use again.
It's been an amazing way of interacting with our community over a very difficult period of time and showing God's love in an immensely practical way. I have lost count of the times that i have been asked why we are doing this and it has been a joy to have that conversation with people. Recently we launched a mid week church gathering and it has been so encouraging to see some clients and volunteers begin to regularly attend this.
On going, we are looking forward to continue running the Food Stop Shop in a more normal way and are very much looking forward to see what God continues to do in and through it.