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18 June, 2020

Food and football

Food and football

"I know what it feels like to be hungry," Marcus Rashford wrote in The Times on Tuesday. "I’m well aware that at times my friends only invited me to eat at their houses for their parents’ reassurance that I was eating that evening."

That was a decade ago. Marcus was 12, and one of over a million children in the UK who were eligible for free school meals. Like many of the 1.3 million eligible children in the UK today, Marcus doubtless found the school holidays to be a particularly hungry time, as his parents tried to extend their meagre budget to include lunch for him and his brothers. Fortunately he lived in a community, and had friends, who cared about one another's lives. Who didn't turn a blid eye to the poverty, but who helped, in whatever small, understated ways they could.

It seems Marcus, too, had this capacity for noticing and caring about the plight of others. He said, "As I passed through Manchester city centre on the bus as a child and witnessed homelessness on every street corner, I swore that if one day I got in a position to help those people most in need then that is what I would do."

Tuesday was that day.

Marcus, the football-mad Manchester kid has grown up to be a professional footballer for Manchester United and the England team. He has 2.9 million twitter followers. Success, fame and followers = influence, so Marcus used his to convince the Prime Minister to do a u-turn on his plans to end the food voucher scheme, for children who would normally get free school meals, at the start of the summer holidays.

It is a fantastic victory, and Marcus should feel rightly proud (as should his mum!). It also says a lot about him that he credited the whole country with the victory, tweeting, "Just look what we can do when we come together."

Yet as Marcus acknowledges, and Natalie shared in the video she made about it, this is only a short term solution. The government can't keep handing out food vouchers to children living in poverty. It is neither sustainable nor conducive to the dignity of the children or their parents. The economy has taken a battering during the lockdown – as have economies across the world. The government's furlough scheme and financial help for the self-employed and charity workers, not to mention their extra investment in the NHS will have to be paid for somehow. There is no secret money pot that they have been drawing on to pay these bills – they have been borrowing from the future, and it will be a long time before they are able to start paying back that debt. All of which means that when the autumn half term rolls around, there will be 1.3 million children – possibly many more – whose parents will struggle to feed them again.

So what can we do?

To answer that, I first need to pose another question: where do you see yourself in this story? Which of these characters are you?

12-year-old Marcus – aware of the help, care and sacrificial giving of others to keep you going. Thankful for the assistance and vowing that one day, when you are in a position to do so, you will pay the kindness forward.

Marcus's community – noticing those in your immediate circle and sharing what you have with them, quietly and casually, day by day.

Adult Marcus – remembering where he came from, and choosing not to delay acting on his vow. Not waiting until he's (even) more financially secure, not making excuses that he couldn't make a difference, that it's not his responsibility, but harnessing his resources to at least try.

His Twitter followers – people who have limited power or influence themselves, but who can join in the battle with what little they have, retweeting, supporting, encouraging, praying.

MPs and the media – taking their positions of power, their increased access, their platforms and their authority to speak to others in power and urge them to make the change?

The Prime Minister – in a position to make a real difference, weighing the different pressures and long- and short-term needs, trying to choose wisely and use your power for good.

You could be in more than one of those groups, of course. MPs can press for big changes, but that doesn't exempt them from also being aware of the needs of their neighbours or their children's friends. You may be able to provide a meal for someone in your community, but yourself need help with bigger challenges.

The point is that God has gifted each of us with different resources, abilities, opportunities and connections, and loves to draw our attention to different needs and offer us the opportunity of working in his power to meet those needs. What is he drawing your attention to? What part might he be offering you to play? How will you respond?


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18 June, 2020

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