Locally, people have arrived at the Food Bank, shocked at having to ask for food. The sense of shame is strong.
“ A MOMENT BY MOMENT DECISION TO LOVE”
The greatest commandment of all coupled with the greatest Vincentian question of all.
Here in the United Kingdom, Volunteers’ Week is a long-standing popular event in the voluntary sector, established in 1984. It is supported and celebrated by small grassroots organisations as well as larger, household-name charities, who together run hundreds of events across the UK. These events showcase and celebrate volunteers and the contribution volunteering makes in our communities.
Graphically, above we see a modern version of the Greatest Commandment ..Mark 12:28-34 ”to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and love thy neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
Coupled with the Great Vincentian Question – “What must be done,” is what motivates volunteers to help others. Acting together against all forms of poverty (AIC motto) and with Turning concern into action (SVP motto).
During Volunteers Week, The SVP Chair, Helen O’Shea went “live” on their Facebook Page to show us round her parish Food Bank. Similar to our AIC Food Bank, it is in collaboration with other organisations in their area. New volunteers have come forward to join in the efforts of feeding individuals and families during this pandemic crisis. In Helen’s parish, 24 new people have volunteered because they are inspired by the efforts to replenish shelves and get food to “shielded” people who are vulnerable.
Pope Francis recognised on May 29, 2020, the millions of nameless volunteers and workers who work to support those in difficulty throughout the world. “I think of all the people, especially women, who multiply loaves of bread in soup kitchens: two onions and a package of rice make up a delicious stew for hundreds of children. I think of the sick, I think of the elderly. They never appear in the news, nor do small farmers and their families who work hard to produce healthy food without destroying nature, without hoarding, without exploiting people’s needs. I want you to know that our Heavenly Father watches over you, values you, appreciates you, and supports you in your commitment.”
Locally, people have arrive shocked at having to ask for food. Parents from the local school speak of feeling “ashamed” and trying to go to further food banks, only to find their friends and neighbours are there too. In a recent zoom meeting, Vincentian volunteers were discussing about what our world would look and feel like when we eventually emerged from this crisis, and how we could meet people’s needs.
In among the discussion of additional work needed to help the poor; offering more debt advisors, and the positive experience of online worship still not fulfilling people’s need for connectivity, we talked about the negative impact on the youth. When we emerge, our main focus should be on their needs in schools and colleges. Rather than youth formation solely to support the elderly and vulnerable, we should also focus on formation that equips the Vincentian youth to become influencers of their peers.
Youth as volunteer leaders rather than solely beneficiaries, inverts the age demographic, and the average age of volunteers now from mid 60s shows an age range of 7-70 years plus!
Paolo Freire, Brazilian Catholic Educator, rarely used religious language or metaphors to make his point. His teaching is fully Christ- centred, and his teaching on solidarity asks for a profound rebirth. Emerging from this crisis, can it truly be – a renaissance of the world order if we are to eradicate poverty.
We can no longer think as we did.
We walk this life together in solidarity.
We must take responsibility for the whole.
As Paul taught, “If one part is hurt, all parts share in the pain. If one part is honoured, all the parts share in the joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Dee Mansi is a lay member of AIC, Vincentian Collaboration Commission & Depaul Assembly; a retired School Principal, Schools Inspector and Leadership in Education Lecturer. Dee is Irish, living in London with her husband and son, she travels in Europe and beyond.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views.