The Daily Mail chose today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, champion of the oppressed, by publishing this article today. Here’s my response.
Dear Daily Mail,
I’ve got a little boy. His name is Isaac, and he’s nearly three. Like any little boy, he loves cars, balls, and running around. He’s barely ever still.
A few days ago though, he was. I took him to the supermarket to spend his pocket money, and we passed the donation basket for our local food bank. It was about half full – nothing spectacular, in fact, mostly prunes and pasta – and he asked what it was. As simply as possible, I tried to explain that it was for people to give food for other people who couldn’t afford it.
This affected his two year old brain fairly deeply. After a lot of thought, he decided to spend a little bit of his pocket money on some treats to donate, because “children haffa have treats when they mummy and daddy is sad!” Nothing exciting. A chocolate swiss roll (about 29p), some angel delight (about 40p). Just a treat for a child, from a child who cares.
Daily Mail, I’ve got to ask. Why does my two year old get it better than you do?
See, here’s the thing. You may (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here) believe that your article, in which you decried the “abuse” of food banks, and sent your reporter in to see what he could get, was done for entirely moral reasons. If that is the case, and you were doing it for all the best reasons, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disabuse you. You simply could not have been more wrong.
Here’s what you acheived. You made hardworking, desperate, humiliated people out to be a bunch of scroungers, out to milk the system for all it’s worth. Have you ever had money troubles? Not the “I can’t wait until payday, I can buy that new dress” kind of trouble, but the “crap. How do I feed my child today?” kind of trouble. In 2012, I got made redundant. Thanks be to God, we were ok. But it wouldn’t have taken much to change that situation – and for the vast majority of people using the food banks, that’s exactly what’s happened. They’re not scroungers, out for all they can milk from an unsuspecting charity. They’re people who’ve worked as hard as they can possibly work, and life’s just handed them one disaster too many.
Can you really imagine how much courage it takes to use a food bank? I actually can’t imagine how much, having not had to use one. It’s a courage I hope and pray I never have to find. To admit that things are going wrong and that you or your family needs help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of incredible strength. And you know what? It’s also a gift. The other day, Isaac and I were handed a gift. The gift of looking beyond ourselves, and reaching out to someone else. That’s one of the greatest gifts God can give anyone – the opportunity to be his hands and feet and sheer love in this world. And without those incredibly brave people, who overcome pride and humiliation and shame to put their hands up and admit that life, right now, isn’t perfect, we’d never have been given it.
I’m not entirely sure what you felt you acheived with your undercover reporter, either. The Citizen’s Adice Beureau is an incredible organisation, underfunded and understaffed, and working their butts off for very little reward. So what did you prove? That your reporter can lie convincingly? That charities are charitable? That people would far, far rather take the risk of someone abusing the system than allow someone in need to go hungry?
I hope Isaac’s swiss roll is sitting in the belly of a little child right now. You know what? It wasn’t essential. But I hope it’s made a little child, in the middle of the storms and stresses that are invariably occuring when mum and dad are at that level of poverty, smile, and realise that life can’t be too bad when there’s still chocolate around.
But you know what? Even if it hasn’t – even if it’s gone to somebody who really doesn’t need it – I will always encourage my child’s loving sensitivity. I hope he will always have the same heart for others as he has now, and I still plan to make food bank donations something we do as a family. Because whilst people are hungry, and struggling, I can’t sit silent. I can’t allow some leglaisitc moralistic claptrap to get in the way of what Jesus really wants me to do. It’s Easter today, and we’ve been celebrating the new life God gives us. But for so many people, it’s hard to see a new life when this one really sucks. My little boy made a dent in the darkness the other day. I pray one day your eyes are open to the God of all compassion, and you can join him.