Again and again we hear about how more and more people ar turning to foodbanks for support, each week our little project in Blackpool feeds aproximately 150/ 200people and gives out around 90 food bags. The gathered community have become our friends, and as we hear their stories a new themes are emerging ever more strongly and I know that it is echoed in other parts of the country too. Not only are we seeing more and more people sleeping rough, 12 signed in today, 12 people who came to us, who will be looking for somewhere safe in the town to sleep on a night where the forecast is for torrential rain and high winds! We long to do more but are aware that if we break with insurance and safety guidelines we will be closed down altogether! So we weep every week as we have to turn people out into the cold and the wet!
The other theme that bothers me greatly is a policy implemented by the Local Council that says that unless you have had consistent local connections for 3 years or more then you do not qualify for housing help, or even in some cases emergency food parcels of payments. We are seeing more and more people who quite simply slip through the cracks, the story changes if they manage to find a private landlord, but all that does is open a can of worms of abuse and sometimes appalling housing conditions.
Now I understand the dilema of the Council, though I do not agree with all of their reasoning, because like so many areas of Government spending grants and monies available have been slashed. BUT it seems that as with so many things it is almost always the poor who are being penalised. I heard of one local council ( not Blackpool) decision recentlyt not to offer food parcels or emergency payments to folk who have been sanctioned! How can we even begin to claim we are a civilised country when 5,500 people were admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition last year, and I am certain many more teeter on the brink of it or are simply going unnoticed and untreated.
As for those who are disenfranchised, those who slip between the cracks consistently I can only share a story of a family who came to us a couple of months ago. They had come fleeing domestic violence, their home for the previous 6 months had been a seaside town in another part of the country. They came to Blackpool through a friendship and an offer of help, but they needed more. Mistakenly they thought that because they were fleeing a violent situation that help would be forthcoming, but the authorities hands were tied, they could not be offered anything more than a ticket "home", but the home that they were fleeing did not count as home because they had not lived there for long enough, and the home they wanted to return to no longer welcomed them with an offer of help because they had been away for too long.
Thankfully with a bit of ingenuity on their part and with some assistance from us they managed to secure a flat which whilst far from ideal gave them some shelter and a starting point, as they weren't eligible for a Council Sponsored Food Parcel we helped them out and they are slowly finding their feet. At the Comfort Zone we choose not to operate within the councils eligibility guidelines ( though we do operate within all health and safety and insurance protocols) because we are aware that too many people are falling between the cracks. When you meet folk who don't eat on a regular basis, folk who choose consistently between heating and eating you begin to understand the harsh reality that faces so many. We cannot with integrity refuse to see our neighbour in the folk who come to us, we cannot demand that they pull themselves together and sort themselves out, we cannot send them away empty and unloved and so we do what we can.
The Comfort Zone is a project of Blackpool Methodist Circuit, it is supported by the generous giving of the members of the Circuit and many many more who hold us in prayer and send us gifts often in surprising ways. I was once asked by my postman what on earth I was ordering now, the simple response was that the 3 large parcels were sleeping bags from some of our extended community all over the country who see what we do and give. We also receive tin openers, tea-lights, and maybe strangest of all our Chaplain,Lynn receives a regular gift of Potnoodles in the post! We could not keep going without the generosity and prayers of the many folk who help out, or the dedication of our volunteers who consistently go above and beyond anything we could dare ask of them.
Best of all we have many good news stories to tell, the people who come to us are in the main folk who have fallen on hard times and when given encouragement and support, love and friendship offer us so much more in return. We have a number of former "clients" (I dislike that word) who are no volunteers. We are given gifts by those who once received them, they are our neighbours and we are theirs, and I truly believe that this is what the kingdopm of heaven is like, love and respect, value and compassion shared in mutuality!
Here are the statistics gathered by Lynn:
So, we have worked out that last year we have served (roughly!)
Hot free meals - 9000
Food parcels - 6000
Homeless kits (sleeping bags etc!) - 2000
Jumpers and warm clothes - 3000
Flats for people sleeping outside - 25 ( each one a miracle !)
Babies born (one delivered by a volunteer !) - 4.
Hugs - Endless.
Prayers - 10,000 (ish!)
Candles - 5000.
Love and acceptance - unquantifiable !
We have also grown from a "project" into a community and a Church. ( we regularly share in communion)
We have seen some of the community find faith, grow in faith and join Churches.
Volunteers have been on a huge journey with tears, frustrations and joy.
We have had amazing people who have donated so much to us which in turn has kept us open !
People around the world pray with us.
We are truly blessed.
THIS YEAR WE DO IT ALL AGAIN !
Thank you for being part of the community.
With much love from all of us. xxx