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Solidarity, not Charity, at the Grassroots

As Mahatma Gandi said, "the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members".

We are living now, as we know through an acute cost of living crisis – that is hitting households, families and children everywhere.

We face funding and staffing crises in schools, the NHS, in both adult and children’s social care.

The crisis in young people's mental health and an epidemic of loneliness.

We see on the early evening news, the struggles of people faced with the choice of eating or heating.

The situation we are in now feels unprecedented in its scope, its breadth and depth.

But we can measure our society not just by the acts of those in positions of power and influence – we can look deeper, to find a measure in a different data bank.

In the wealth of love and support brought to us by grassroots movements that bring out the best in all of us.

We often hear the line “solidarity, not charity” where the community steps in and does the job, dependably, with great determination, to fill the gaps left by, shall we say, the choices of the State.

A great example of this can be found in Liverpool, in the food pantries that are opening up across the city.

A charitable group of people, aligned with the Fans Supporting Foodbanks movement collect food from fans ahead of each game at Liverpool and Everton football clubs.

The ask is “a can, a fan” – an accessible request to those attending the matches and the resulting food collected is distributed through the pantries.

I was at a collection at Anfield, a Saturday match day, recently.

A young lad came to the collection point. To the volunteer on duty, he said

“Me mam said to give you these, Mister” and he handed over a tin of hot dog sausages and a can of beans. Walking away, he stopped, slapped his head, turned back and pulled a tin of corned beef from his trousers pocket, which he handed over with a grin.

Priceless gifts, meals, given with love from one kitchen to others around the city.

These food collections in turn supply an ever-growing food pantry network. The pantries have a village market feel, those attending can choose 10 items in exchange for £3.50 along with other offers – like fresh vegetables and sanitary products.

The pantries launch quietly, but even without fanfare or publicity, dozens of people turn up. At one launch, a young woman nervously asked one of the volunteers whether the pantry return. The volunteer was able to reassure her that it would – next week and every week until it was no longer needed.

Her reply? To offer to bring the volunteers a bowl of scouse the following week. Food from her kitchen, too, supplied with goods from the pantry, she was giving away to others what little she had.

There should be adequate safety nets in place to catch people whenever they need it but right now, things are not like that.

So, thank goodness for grassroots movements like this, and for dedication of those who create, lead and drive them. We are delighted at to support the team in Liverpool and to help them reach more people.

Their work provides an insight into a true measure of our society, that is, a belief in our common humanity, represented by the mobilisation of people who come out for each other, regularly, in solidarity for us all.


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