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Katherine Ajibade reflects on the work of Holiday Clubs, their approach to total nourishment and its similarity to Jesus in feeding the 5000. 23/08/2018
In Matthew 14, we hear that Jesus fed the 5000 with two fish and five loaves of bread. I often reflect on how the miracle of that event is that “they all ate and were satisfied”. This is amplified by the abundance of food as “the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over”. ‘Satisfied’ speaks to the twofold nature of nourishment in this biblical story because the people leave feeling spiritually and physically nourished. The growing number of church–based projects tackling holiday hunger – such as the one I visited recently at St Paul’s Newington – work in the same way. It starts with food and goes beyond it, by establishing a community that fosters positive relationships through social action. For holiday hunger clubs, the concern is to tackle both holiday hunger and social isolation; issues that go hand in hand for many children and their families.
School holidays are usually thought of as a time to relax and have fun. For many children, however, the reality of a break from school is very different from this. There are approximately 170 non–school days a year where eligible children cannot access free school meals. According to the Trussell Trust, “78% of households helped by foodbanks had skipped meals or even gone days without eating in the past 12 months.”  This is likely to be intensified during times such as school holidays when free school meals are not available. Holiday clubs around the country do more than just provide food. They support children and their families towards a total sense of physical and spiritual nourishment throughout the summer holiday.
I visited the holiday club at St. Paul’s Church in Newington, South London, where I was given the opportunity to help with the food preparations. There was an array of children’s activities on offer and fresh produce waiting to be served alongside the meal. It was clear that the organisers of this holiday club, Mother Katy (the parish priest) and Felicia (club programme manager), felt a twofold response was needed to make sure children left feeling satisfied.
Families often travel across the city to gain access to services such as foodbanks and holiday clubs where the diversity of family needs are well understood. In Matthew 14, we see how Jesus’ openness to and understanding of the needs of the people allowed him to respond in a reflective and holistic way. The same openness to help others is the basis on which holiday clubs are able to go beyond providing food, to meeting the spiritual needs of the families they serve.
The holiday club at St. Pauls also operates a volunteer scheme, ‘the volunteers in yellow’. They are an ecumenical team who commit themselves to wearing a yellow shirt, washing up and serving the food. This is their way of giving back for the help that many of them have received from the club. It is also another example of how the club facilitates spiritual and physical nourishment, by providing the opportunity to help as well as being helped. The disciples in Matthew 14 have a similarly crucial role, in that Jesus gives them the food and ‘they gave to [it] to the people’. The reciprocal nature of receiving and giving to others, evident in both Matthew 14 and the holiday club at St. Paul’s, shows how meeting the needs of others brings people together. At St. Paul’s, this gave rise to meaningful experiences where social isolation was met with the kindness and friendship of Felicia, Mother Katy and the volunteers in yellow. As relationships flourished through laughter, conversation and food, the twofold nature of nourishment was emphasised as families left the club feeling spiritually and physically at ease.
Research from the Trussell Trust also shows that 76% of parents who benefited from holiday clubs believe that this had a nutritional impact on what they eat, and it was reiterated throughout the food preparation that nutrition is key to nourishment. The food provided at the holiday hunger club dispels any assumption that to be ‘hungry’ and in need of food means that a person should be willing to accept and eat whatever food they are offered. The food was prepared according to a holistic understanding of what it means to be nourished, which meant that the food had a function that went beyond leaving families full for the day – it was to leave them feeling loved. This interpretation of total nourishment is a key feature of Matthew 14, as Jesus before feeding the 5000, ‘had compassion on them and healed their sick’. When the crowd then “eat and are satisfied”, we see the magnitude of the twofold nature of the nourishment Jesus provided for them – just as I witnessed through the work of the holiday club at St Paul’s.
Perhaps then, the wonder of Matthew 14 persists in the work of holiday clubs, which continue to leave families spiritually and physically nourished throughout the summer holiday.
Katherine joined Theos in June 2018. She holds a BA in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics from Kings College London and a MSc in Social Anthropology: Religion in the Contemporary World from LSE. Her research interests centre on the Anthropology of Christianity, religious and social transformation and ethnographic accounts of religion.
Posted 23 August 2018
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.