‘Filling the Gap’ began last summer as a response from Bishop Graham and the Diocesan Board of Education to help families who are in receipt of free school meals or otherwise in food poverty through the school holidays. For churches wanting to engage with their local communities it’s a great opportunity to link with the schools in their benefices to directly help those most in need. It works by the church contacting their local school and asking for permission for the contact details of families who would appreciate a food hamper and activity pack for children in the holidays. Families then give their consent for details to be passed on.
We are a team of 18 churches which encompasses several schools so we decided in Aylsham to work with St Michael’s CE Primary School; Revd David Hagan-Palmer liaised with Buxton Primary School and Revd Andrew Whitehead with Cawston CE Primary Academy, and each part of the project ran in a slightly different way depending on the particular circumstances.
Speaking about the project, Revd David said:
“In Buxton, the school was very keen to work with us and several families were identified in Buxton, Lammas and Badersfield. One challenge the church faced was that we did not have the staff available to produce food parcels ourselves and so we approached a local charity, The Picto Buxton Charity, and asked them to help finance the purchase of Morrison essential boxes which had been recommended to us by the diocesan Filling the Gap team. Once details were received from the schools the boxes were purchased and delivered to the families. I have to say the reaction of those receiving the parcels was humbling and the project helped raise awareness of the church quietly working in the background to support people whether church goers or not. It was a wonderful example of the church’s mission at work outside the four walls of the building.”
The Cawston project started with a list of 18 families who were either entitled to free school meals or who had been having a hard time. This included one family dealing with cancer treatment for their youngest child. Within these families were a total of 71 people, 46 of them children.
Revd Andrew said:
“Part of the church response to the pandemic was to establish a helpline in the village which continues to run. A local business made a generous donation to the church to be spent on worthy causes in the village which we used part of to pay for the hampers.
“We also had successful applications to a local charity (£250) and Transforming Lives for Good (£200). Tesco Aylsham donated an amount of food and supplied a box of ‘bags for life’ to help with distribution. A shop in the village offered assistance so we went on a trip to the wholesalers and filled two cars with a wide range of food products. This was then taken to the church where hampers were made up to reflect the size of each family. The food was then distributed to the families directly or via the school along with Christingle activity bags, which contained a Christingle kit for the Christmas Eve online Christingle service, and a range of activities for the children to do including a DIY nativity scene.”
In Aylsham, we applied for the £200 Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) grant as well as accepting food donations from our congregation and a generous cash donation. Each family received a festive food hamper and activity packs and a colouring book for each child in the family. The Foodbank based in Aylsham Church were also hugely supportive and offered to supply anything we were short of. In the end though, we had more than we needed to cover Christmas, so have resources to keep the project going through half term and beyond.
Reflecting on the project, Revd Andrew said:
“The feedback from the school and from the families has been fantastic. People really appreciated the effort and generosity. Perhaps most touching, though, was a question from one of the people who helped with the project, a non-churchgoer who asked how much of what the church does is helping people ‘under the radar’. I replied that a large proportion of what the church does goes unnoticed by many people, but that the priority was helping people in need.”
More information about applying for TLG grants can be found online.
To discover how the Filling the Gap project began or find out more about how your church can run a food hamper scheme locally, please see the link below.