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Each year, the Cardinal's Lenten Appeal raises funds to support projects across the diocese. These projects, run by parishes and communities, help alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable people in society. Fr Joseph Raju Katthula is a priest at Hayes parish and here he tells the story of how his community came together to feed the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

It feels recent, but soon going to be a year already. The lockdown started on 23rd March 2020 and we started to reach out to the elderly parishioners, whoever was over 65 from our parish data, from 24th March. We started to drop bags of food to their doorsteps, as they couldn’t buy what they wanted, due to panic buying at that time. We also started to keep in touch with them by making regular phone calls as they couldn’t get to see their beloved friends and family. 

In the process of reaching to the elderly of the parish, we came across so many other families who were going through difficult times. Most of them are new to the country. We have lots of immigrants from many countries and there is a greater need to support those in need. As the Brexit referendum was passed, many people rushed to get to UK just before the pandemic. Just one in the family may have a EU passport and the rest in the family with a dependent visa, which means that they can’t get into a job as soon as they arrive. 

Some of them just started a new job through an agency but due to the pandemic they lost the job. Since they hadn’t been in the job for certain period of time or are employed through an agency, they are not entitled for any furlough. Others had started to get their paperwork for National Insurance done but due to the pandemic all the offices were closed so they couldn’t go any further in getting a job or even to claim any benefits. Most of them had some savings but they are left with two choices only. Either to pay the house rent or to buy daily food. They can’t afford both.

Around the same time, we had the offer of £500 worth of food vouchers from Caritas Westminster. Anna was the first point of contact that we had. I got in touch with her to explain the local needs of the parish. Thanks be to God, if it was not because of the guidance and the support from Caritas Westminster and the grants they arrange for us, we couldn’t do what we are doing today. At one point we had about 125 families that we were sharing the food with per week. But now we have on average up to 80 families, about 260 to 280 people including children. We do not give same kind of food to all or same quantity. We know the needs of each family and we pack accordingly. 

Every little matters; as each drop of water is needed to make an ocean, so does every little act of charity. We have people from the parish who come and drop canned and non-perishable foods in front of the parish office; we had such a wonderful and committed support from the Felix Food Project. From day one we had wonderful committed group of volunteers; no words will suffice to thank them enough for their selfless service. There is a strong feeling of family bond amongst the group members and all of us look forward for the weekend. That’s the joy of the gospel, isn’t it? There is so much joy in making God’s love felt by the most vulnerable, most in need. We are just instruments in the hands of the Lord.

We come together on Saturday morning to do the shopping, collect all the food donations and sort it out. On Sunday most of the people come to the venue to collect their tray of food. Some, due to various reasons, are not able to come and collect so we go on Sunday to do home delivery. We still can’t forget those days of March to May 2020, when we were a small group of volunteers. When the whole country was in serious lockdown, we were like fish against the current going for bulk shopping, sorting out the bags, and going to every house to do deliveries of the food. 

The food bank initially was in the church parish hall area but once the schools were opened after the first lockdown, we had to vacate that space as the parish school wanted to use it. Later we moved into the scout hut of the parish. After a couple of months, the scouts wanted the space, so we had to shift to the community centre. Again, at one point we had to move from the community centre back to the scout hut as the community centre was to be used by after school club of the school. Now we are using the scout hut. We thank God that we are blessed with good spaces so that we managed to find a place to store and serve people.

‘Father, we are able to eat something because we are getting something from the church’, was a comment made by one of the recipients recently. We have no boundaries, at the time of reaching out to those in need. We have people from other faiths too. People also come from the other neighbouring parishes. 

As we look back can very much feel the guiding hand of the Lord. Thank you, Lord, for letting us be an instrument in your hands. Thanks to every donor, every prayer, every volunteer, and everyone who benefits from what we are doing.

Please continue to support Fr Joseph's work by donating to this years Cardinal's Lenten Appeal. With your support and prayers, hope will grow, filling the hearts of those who despair.

Photos: Fr Joseph Katthula, Hayes Parish