On 22nd September 2017, the Street Life Food Bank opened in the assembly building at Newcastle West, County Limerick, Ireland. We look back after six months and can truly say that this gospel outreach has brought ourselves and the local Christians into contact with more unsaved people on a regular basis than we have seen for a long time at the assembly.
The idea of the food bank commenced around Easter 2017 when we started praying, along with another couple, to really seek the Lord’s guidance on how to effectively reach people in our local town and surrounding rural areas. We realized that very few people were attending our weekly gospel/family service and we asked ourselves the question, were the local community even aware of the assembly and who we are and what we believe? For many years, through the faithful efforts of some in the local assembly, street work has been done, door-to-door work has also been done, along with literature distribution and calendars. As we continue some of these methods, we believed the Lord was asking us to get out into the community and become connected with and relevant to the local people.
Over a period of time we considered various options that we brought before the Lord. These included a Charity Shop and an Honesty Café, as well as others, but the Lord clearly closed the doors on those ideas.
In July 2017, we became aware of an Irish-based organization called Food Cloud (in the UK this is called Fair Share) who connect with supermarket stores like Tesco, Aldi and Lidl and, in trying to reduce food waste, pass food from the stores to local charitable organizations. We attended a meeting to find out about how Food Cloud operated and we started to explore how to run a food bank as an outreach. There are many food banks run by non-Christian organizations and so we prayed that if we were to move forward with this idea that we would be different in order to be able to use it as a gospel outreach.
After doing more research, and a lot of prayer, the idea of the food bank was mentioned to the other elders at the assembly, and subsequently to the whole assembly. After addressing some initial concerns, we proceeded to take the first steps to start a food bank in the assembly building in Newcastle West. However, it was decided to set up a separate charitable trust called ‘Street Life’ for both this work and a subsequent trailer gospel work.
In preparation for opening the doors of the food bank, we had visits from the food safety office of Food Cloud and also the local Environmental Health Office to confirm that we complied with Food Safety Standards. This resulted in us purchasing a commercial fridge, freezer and washing machine, as well as using the storage capacity in the building to the maximum potential.
We registered with the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) program, which is a European-funded initiative which provides an allocation of dried ambient food to organizations to help feed the poor. We also receive donations of food through Tesco, Aldi and Lidl. This food would be near its use-by date but is still usable and would generally consist of fruit and vegetables, bakery items and chilled food. We are also able to purchase food at a reduced cost through the Food Cloud organization to help supplement what we are given from the above sources. We have also been blessed with receiving food donations from various local churches and other establishments at various times.
We decided that each week we would make up food parcels with ambient/dried goods. One type of box was suitable for an individual or couple and the other box for a family. The person is then able to choose from the items of fruit and vegetables, bakery and frozen meats and the quantities they can pick depends on the amount of food we have available.
At the same time, we also have a small coffee shop style area where we offer free tea and coffee, and fresh soup is made each week. This provides an opportunity for people to stay and sit down and chat and this has provided us with opportunities to get to know people and to reach out to them with the love of Christ. After six months, we now have an average of thirty people staying and sitting for up to an hour.
As we got nearer to opening on 22nd September, we really had no idea if people would come and, if so, who would come. We distributed leaflets into the offices of the local police station, doctors’ surgeries, local government agencies as well as shops and libraries and set up a specific Facebook page for this outreach.
Upon opening, we quickly saw the great need in our town and the surrounding areas. Many people are affected by food poverty caused by many circumstances and reasons. We also learned very quickly that a lot of people are lonely and long for company and someone to talk to. Over the six months since we opened, we have had direct contact with the lonely, hurting, addicts, single parents, people with psychological illness, ex-convicts, people who believe they are seeing spirits in their homes, homosexual’s and middle-class people who have now fallen on hard times. This has been a real eye-opener to many of us at the assembly and a reminder to us of how much people need the Lord, and to hear the gospel. One constant prayer we have as we run the food bank is that the Lord would help us to love the unsaved around us.
We have been very careful to try to exhibit Christ-likeness in our approach to running the Food Bank and Café area. From the moment someone steps in the building and until they leave, we want them to feel welcome and of value. For some people it takes everything in their capability to come over the doorstep.
We have a good team of helpers from the assembly who work hard behind the scenes and also to try to share the gospel with people as they spend time in the building. We have learned many things since we started, including the wonderful opportunities the food bank has brought to share the message of the gospel to many in the local community, local business owners and users of the food bank. We have also been blessed by a good team of extra volunteers from the local community, many of whom are not saved. This has also provided us with another mission field as we witness to the volunteers in different ways. We are blessed to have some close neighbours of ours who come along to help, as well as foreign nationals, young mums, and retired school teachers. Many have commented that this is ‘more than a food bank’.
We have been blessed to see how the Lord has and is continuing to use the food bank as a means to get the gospel into our local community. Since we started, we have had 189 different individuals come to the food bank. This equates to 1183 family members being impacted by the food with an average of forty-six people per week. The maximum we have had is fifty-seven in one week. The Lord Jesus looked upon the multitude with compassion but was also accused of receiving sinners and eating with them. It is a joy and privilege to get to know many in our local community whom the Lord loves and yet they just don’t know. Through consistently showing kindness and compassion, people on the receiving end often ask, ‘Why?’ This gives us an opportunity to explain the grace of God.
There are many long hours involved in the running of the food bank. This could be in the sorting of food, the organizing of volunteers, calling in with stores, or simply visiting someone in need. It has brought a new focus to the work and it has also brought us into contact with many people in need of the Saviour.
Thank you for praying for us and with us in this exciting work for the Lord.
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