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God at work at social supermarket in Rotherham Minster

by Donna Birrell

Churches in Rotherham have partnered with Church Mission Society (CMS) to set up a social supermarket - a community hub where members can do their weekly shop for three pounds. It operates through referrals and people become members for three months paying the weekly three pounds.

The hub, based in Rotherham Minster is able to stock its shelves through donations from members of the public and businesses.

Rev Ali Middleton who is associate vicar at Rotherham Minister and St Paul’s Masbrough has been speaking to Premier about the facility :

“Social supermarket grew out of lockdown, really. During the first lockdown, the area here were involved in delivering food parcels and they decided to do a survey of people that had the food parcels. The overwhelming feeling that we got from people was that they liked the food, but what they really appreciated was the chat on the doorstep. And from that the social supermarket was born.

“It’s not a food bank, it's not for urgent response. But it's basically for people that are struggling. We’re very blessed in the fact that we get fresh stuff and frozen stuff so you can feed your family.

“We really believe in encouraging people and encouraging them to bring their gifts to what we do. So a lot of our volunteers were once members, and some of our members and volunteers come up with ideas that we have stuff we can do. Our strapline is that we're more than just food.”

Steve, a local man who is part of the social supermarket community, vouches for the difference it’s made in his life and in the local community: “If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I’d be here, to be honest with you.” Having struggled for years with drug addiction, crime and homelessness, Steve had been contemplating suicide when he was befriended by Rev Middleton and invited to join the social supermarket. He said : “It’s great, honestly. It helps a lot of people. And it’s like a gathering. We get talking, we have a cup of coffee and it’s a lovely day out.”

Social supermarket members can also access help with money management, be connected with other organisations including the Citizens Advice Bureau, and join a cooking course to help make the most of the food they’ve acquired.

Rev Middleton said lives are being transformed for members of the community :

“We’ve seen a number of people who have come to faith, which has been really exciting. We have copies of Mark's gospel available and in our first year about 70 copies went. I know  people were then giving it to other people. Someone said they had seen a homeless guy reading a copy of it, which was lovely.

“People’s lives are being transformed by God, by people coming to know Jesus and trying to wrestle with what that means and how their faith keeps them going in everyday life.”

The social supermarket has been highlighted as part of CMS’s Jesus Never Gives Up campaign, which is urging Christians to connect with people at the edges of society - those who might have given up on God. The campaign seeks to inspire hope by spotlighting examples where God is making a difference, transforming lives and communities for the better. 

Jonny Baker, CMS’s Britain Hub Director, said; “The vast majority of people in the UK do not go to church and say they are unlikely to do so. They may have ‘given up’ on God but we want the UK to know that ‘God hasn’t given up on them.”

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