Lockdown Stories: Farley Hill – “I didn’t know the church did that”
25th November 2020
Farley Hill in South Luton, is one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese of St Albans. For the church community there they knew that for them the challenge of Lockdown would be ensuring that the children and families around the parish were fed. With the help of funding from the Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation Coronavirus Emergency Fund, and the generosity of the congregation and local businesses, Rev Rob O’Neill and his wife Katja have helped 155 families, including 320 children, twice a week.
They were already addressing the issues of holiday hunger by hosting the Kids Can Cook Club, where around 55 children would come and learn to cook their dinner, which they then got to eat. All with a side order of craft beforehand! With no club happening Katja decided to send Kids Can Cook packs out in the hampers, so that not only will the children get fed but they will continue to learn to cook meals with their families, also gaining a new skill. Each pack contains an easy recipe sheet and all the ingredients they need to make it.
Katja realised as they approached Easter that, without free school meals and the cooking club, there was simply not going to be enough food for many families she was in contact with. The grant provided enough money for her to pack up hampers with food essentials as well as items donated by other organisations and charities. It looked like there would be enough money to provide goods for six weeks’ worth of hampers, but then the community generously pitched in and with more recent donations they’ve raised an extra £5000, which is enough to carry on up until the summer holidays and beyond.
Whenever it looks as if the food is running out, Katja turns to God for wisdom to take the next steps. On one occasion, shortly after Katja had prayed, a local Mum posted on Facebook asking if there were any charities in need as her five year old daughter wanted to do something to help. The girl went back to her Primary School in Harpenden and persuaded them to do a sponsored run (socially distanced and at home) which raised another £630 for the hampers.
The recipients of the hampers are all known to schools on the estate. Some families were previously ineligible for meal vouchers and once they were furloughed there was no way of getting access to those benefits, so the hampers Katja put together have proved vital.
Often the hampers have gone to people who didn’t know about the church and were surprised to learn that, rather than it simply being a building where other people went on a Sunday, it was a place where people were also kind and caring. Some remarked that they didn’t know churches did things like this.
Here is what one Mum wrote to Katja,
I just want to say thank you for your kindness. We made the Tagine last night and the boys loved it!
I explained to the boys yesterday about being given the food boxes and how kind it is. They know about their dad losing his job and our oldest does worry about money (crazy at the age of 8) obviously we reassured them and said we will be ok what ever happens. I think it’s important for them to know that kindness is out there and that we should and will repay the kindness when we are able to.
We have always stood on our own two feet and not asked/needed any help until now.
I have hope that everything will work out, it’s just a hard time with people losing heir jobs and not many companies currently hiring.
I am happy for you to share the photos 😊 and thank you once again xx Made my day today!! ❤️🙏❤️🙏
If this has inspired you to reach out into your community and to demonstrate the kind of love shown by the people of Caddington and Farley Hill, Katja’s advice is to simply “Do what you can with what you’ve got. Just start. God will provide”.
Since then, things have developed. Rob and Katja have opened ‘Pop Up Shops’ where people can come and find the things they need – of all sorts including cooked meats! They deliver about 80 hampers a week and have now reached 400 people. All resourced by generous donations of goods – even wrapping paper for Christmas presents – and money from supportive businesses as far away as Milton Keynes. They’ve also had support from the National Lottery Covid Emergency Fund and the local Council’s emergency funding scheme.
Having reached 400 people. The work continues and is meeting all manner of needs in the community both practical and spiritual. People in Farley Hill know where to go to get help.