For many of us living in the West the word poverty normally conjures up images of far flung lands in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Often it is images of malnourished children with naked torsos and indented ribcages in drought-ridden surroundings.
Whilst we may feel grateful for not inhabiting the same space with these extreme cases of poverty our lack of physical contact has made our relationship with those less fortunate deeply impersonal. The fact that we can view such images on news programmes whilst tucking into our evening meals is a representation of the utmost detachment.
When dealing with cases of poverty our attitudes are simply one of literally passing-the-buck. Many are satisfied in simply forking out spare change or a little more in cash or debit payments to charities. In doing so we often remain oblivious of the cause or even where the money actually ends up. It has become a convenient way to satisfy the conscience and maintain the barrier we have with our fellow human beings whose misfortune is often a direct consequence of our exuberant lifestyles.
Some will argue that given distance and logistical issues it is simply impossible to have or maintain any direct link with the have not's. Whilst this may have been the case for many decades in the West the ongoing financial turmoil is changing the status quo.
An increasing number of individuals and families in our midst are struggling to provide themselves with the basic foodstuffs. A recent newspaper report in Pendle, Lancashire highlighted more fully for me the plight of families who are having to choose between paying domestic bills or buying foodstuffs. The impact of this upon children has been particularly severe with instances of youngsters turning up to school with just a single piece of bread or a few biscuits in their packed lunches.
Reports show how the problem is not just some localised issue amongst post industrial town communities like those of Pendle but is being seen across the UK. A recent Salvation Army poll has found that a tenth of full-time working adults are worried about providing three nutritious meals a day for their families. With no sign of any impending economic recovery this number is likely to grow.
This comes on the back of the latest announcement from the UN which has raised alarms over the increase in food prices turning into a food crisis and global catastrophe.
The response by some concerned residents of Pendle was to form an organisation to tackle the problem of what one local councillor called "a hidden hunger" in the area. The Feeding Pendle and Beyond project was set up by Inspiring Grace to revive by-gone traditions that seek to show solidarity with those struggling in society. The project is not designed as simply another statistic amongst the increasing number of food banks across the country.
In April this figure was reported as one new food bank opening every four days, and in Scotland 50% of those receiving food parcels were in employment, as energy and commodity prices continue to rocket. The latest BBC Newsnight report tonight will show how almost 20% of residents in some cities such as Coventry are having to turn to them.
What Inspiring Grace has aimed to do with this initiative is to build an ethos of solidarity and empathy through physical action. Participants are encouraged to go and purchase the items themselves as opposed to making a simple financial contribution. Its all in the hope that by physically picking an item of the shelf it infuses a sense of gratitude for the basics that many take for granted whilst also raising a greater awareness of what is becoming a nothing short of an epidemic in some communities.
The organisation's ethos in this regard may also have longer term benefits for those in need as well as society in general.
On a logistical level the building of empathy and awareness in physically participating in projects such as food banks will give them a longer shelf life which is a must considering the numbers turning to them showing no signs of slowing down.
On a political front it will also bring home to many how the slashing of welfare coupled with soaring commodity and energy prices is creating a new state of dependency. In a political system that has the concept of citizenship at its centre, to be fully in tune with such developing realities is a necessity for the well being of democracy. Perhaps it would be a small step in countering the rise of emotional and tribal based politics.
Finally there will be a direct link for those in fortunate circumstances to gauge some kind of a real flavour of a human reality that many around the world experience on a daily basis. If such things can wake some of us out of a sheltered state of being then that is no bad thing.
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