Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

Last month I stepped outside my comfort zone and stood at the entrance of our local Asda handing out leaflets and talking to strangers.

Why does anyone ever choose to hand out leaflets to strangers? Often it is for a good cause, in this case: Bethlehem: House of Bread

Set up by a couple in our church, Bethlehem was their response to increasing poverty in Cumbernauld. Bethlehem is a food bank. Up to fifty families a week now benefit and over 1,300 food parcels have been given out since Bethlehem was started in September 2011.

Bethlehem is run volunteers who also contribute to the food bank. The concept is delightfully simple: buy a few extra items in our weekly shop - whatever we can afford; then bring those extra groceries each week. Those who can afford to donate money which buys more groceries. Then, each week, the food bank is opened up and parcels distributed to whoever comes along.

I cannot say I was supportive at the start. I thought it was a great idea. I was delighted this was happening. I bought groceries - though infrequently. But I don't feel I really supported the project. I often live my life in a rush and it was too easy to forget to buy something extra each week.

Until Asda made an offer...

We could man their entrance and hand out leaflets and give people an opportunity to contribute... With groceries...

Thousands of people shop in our big supermarkets every day, more at weekends. If each person donated one packet of pasta or rice or tin of stew, we could feed a hundred families! I decided I needed to be willing to do more.

So, for two hours one bitterly cold Saturday I, along with a couple of dozen other volunteers over the course of the day, handed out leaflets and gave the community a chance to contribute to help the poorest

It was much as you would expect. Some were interested and chatted; some were in a rush; some happily took the leaflets while others did not. I've run my own gauntlets of leaflet distributors and steered well clear so fully understand the reluctance to engage.

Yet many hundreds of people listened or read the leaflets and understood the very simple message: we are all in this together!

Standing there, watching women carry out a shopping bag that they had asked to be kept separate so they could drop it in a trolley; men carefully lower a heavy bag so it didn't crush the groceries underneath; families give up some of their weekly shop so that others would not go hungry, it was a humbling experience.

There are a lot of generous people in the world. People who told us they had been in similar need themselves in the last few years. People who don't have much themselves but know there are others worse off than they. People who have plenty and are glad to share.

By the end of that Saturday, over ten shopping trolleys were filled with essentials that have since been distributed to families who needed that generosity.

Families who are strangers to me and to the hundreds who gave that Saturday in Asda Cumbernauld.

A huge thank you to Asda Cumbernauld and to the people of Cumbernauld who showed (and I've no doubt are still showing) such kindness and generosity!