In England, Adventist member’s idea triggers an unlikely partnership that is feeding thousands.
A community hub based at the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist church in Watford, England, is currently serving more than 3,000 hot meals a week and supplying 800 grocery food parcels for vulnerable families.
Meals and groceries are provided for children who are not currently benefiting from free school meals and also for those families that are struggling. Teachers call on a regular basis to collect and distribute according to need, while parcels are made up for single parents with children. Keeping-in-touch phone calls and bereavement support are also provided.
The “One Vision” project is a community initiative started by church member Enoch Kanagaraj. It began three years ago with a simple Community Chaplaincy Service based at the Stanborough Park church. The primary aim was to establish where help was required and then to meet those needs. The pastoral team of the church suggested that it might be a good idea to extend the project by inviting other community groups to partner with them in a joint venture.
A young volunteer helps prepare food bags to be distributed in the north Watford community in England, particularly for those most affected by the COVID-19 lockdown. [Photo: Trans-European Division News]
One Vision poster, provided by the Watford Borough Council. [Image: One Vision]
Volunteers help sort out meal package donations for children who are not currently benefiting from free school meals and for struggling families. [Photo: Trans-European Division News]
Kanagaraj recognized that a number of local charity groups and organizations were often run by a single person. By pooling resources and working together, they could achieve much more. Kanagaraj works for a supermarket chain that promotes community values. He had already established some connections through the Foodshare scheme, which collects food donations from customers, providing groceries for people struggling financially to feed their families.
Thus One Vision became a networking and action group in which members could exchange ideas, seek and provide advice, and share information, skills, and support while reducing waste and duplication and enhancing delivery capability. Three years on and under Kanagaraj’s chairmanship, the group has 46 members. Their common aim is to make Watford a better place to live under the motto Stronger Together.
From an initial start of monthly meetings and sharing resources, the project has mushroomed. The church provided government-required food hygiene and child protection training. Then the local veterans’ group helped with a Sikh member, who was re-housing a family. The home needed redecorating.
Further initiatives were introduced to the group. To encourage community action, they developed awards for those giving outstanding service. On one occasion, the presentation of an award to the veterans’ leader formed part of the church service. It was presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, the Queen’s representative in the county. In 2019 One Vision won a community award.
The current pandemic is testing the group’s ability to cope with a crisis while working together for the common good. Faith, politics, and other differences have been put aside, and the team is running a smooth operation based at Stanborough Park Church.
The church has long been part of the community. With the doors shut for worship and regular weekday activities, the main halls and kitchens were taken over by One Vision for storing, providing, and distributing groceries and meals. By the end of April, it was designated as an official hub and given the task of meeting the needs of residents in the northern half of the town by the local city council.
Along with grants from the council, financial aid came from the Adventist Church, Hertfordshire County Council, the local synagogue, and the Rotary Club. Generous donations of groceries also came from members of the public. Hot meals have been provided free by the local gurdwara and an Indian restaurant in addition to those being cooked in the church kitchens.
Sandwich meals and fruit are provided and distributed with parcels of groceries for those unable to leave their homes or are experiencing financial difficulties. The local mayor has been actively involved, as has the town’s Member of Parliament, who has been out distributing meals every Sabbath (Saturday) afternoon.
One Vision has also provided items of personal protection equipment made by a secondary school. With churches closed, it additionally offered an Easter street service conducted by an Adventist pastor.
“Currently, we are serving more than 3,000 hot meals a week and providing 800 grocery food parcels to the vulnerable,” Kanagaraj said. “Also, we are working with 18 schools in Watford and taking care of the school children who are not entitled to school meals and helping with essential goods for the families. In partnership with the British Union Conference Convalescence and Restoration project, we have been delivering 180 meals daily to Willesden Green and Hanwell churches over the past five weeks.”
But the project does not stop there. In early July 2020, the team a One Vision plans to launch a mental health platform that will reach a variety of communities.