At St Dunstan’s Harvest Festival
Angela Hancock, Church Warden
After the recent delights of the Royal Horticultural Society Harvest Festival, I was eager to see what home-grown produce the parishioners of Stepney would bring to their Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s Church, and I had expectations of a similar display of long leeks and prize-winning onions, but what I found was far more surprising. When I arrived at this ancient stone church and walked down the aisle, I discovered a huge pile of groceries, as if someone had raided the corner shop and stashed their haul in front of the altar.
At first, I was disappointed by the apparent banality of this spectacle but fortunately Angela Hancock, the Church Warden, was there to explain the meaning of this curious sight, and it was a story which proved to be unexpectedly revealing of our times.
“Traditionally, this was when people gave thanks for all the produce at harvest and brought fruit and vegetables they had grown to place them on the altar. That suits a rural community but we are in an urban environment here, and we found it more purposeful to ask the congregation collect supplies that can be distributed through the Food Bank to people here in the East End.
The Tower Hamlets Food Bank gives us a list, so we can be sure we are supplying people with the essentials they need and today, before the service, our congregation brought their contributions and laid them before that altar. Next week, the Food Bank will come to collect them. This is the third year we have been doing this and we also do it at Christmas and Easter, and throughout the year
There is real hardship here in the East End, and it’s not just families that are out of work, but many who are living on low incomes. Just one big bill to pay, such as their heating costs, can take away their money to buy food. We have also found middle class families in need, where there has been redundancy and their savings run out. These people are not used to asking for help.
We have people come into the church who are really desperately in need and we have helped them with food. There always a food box in the church where people can leave contributions and, one day, we found someone helping themselves to it, but we were able to talk to them and help them out.”
Once I heard Angela’s sobering explanation, it became the most poignant stack of groceries I had ever seen and, rather than looking out of place in the church, it became emblematic of the spirit of Charity that you would hope to discover in a sacred place. If readers wish to support this valuable endeavour, you can volunteer, donate groceries or money at the Food Bank website or deliver your contributions direct to St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney.
Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, 2014
Chris Morgan, Curate, Sarah Edwards, Schools Co-ordinator, and Angela Hancock, Church Warden
Learn more about Tower Hamlets Food Bank
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