Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 29 - Feeding the Hungry

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CHAPTER XXIX.

FEEDING THE HUNGRY.

"IN those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with Me three days and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And His disciples answered Him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And He asked them, How many loaves have ye? and they said, Seven. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and He took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to His disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and He blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that [-188-]  was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and He sent them away."
    In these days also the multitude of those who have nothing to eat is very great; and the question often recurs to the home missionary, "From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?"
    Let us for the present moment put aside the question as to how, with such small resources at our command, the great multitude of men is to be fed; and let us first consider the little children, and see what provision, if any, has been made for them. And here I must at once avow it as my humble opinion, that it is as much the duty of Christ's disciples in the present day as it was when He was upon earth, to minister, as far as they are able, not only to the spiritual, but also to the bodily wants of the poor, and more especially to those of poor little children. At the risk of being censured by some worthy people, I will even go so far as to acknowledge, that if I saw the most miserable sinner actually in want of bread, I would, were it in my power, give him something to eat before I said a word to him about his sins.
    And so, when in the beginning of winter a kind friend who, with his wife, had already helped me largely to take all my poor children for a day into [-189-] the country, and also to send a few of time more weakly ones there for a few weeks' change of air-when he again came and kindly asked me what else he could do to help me in my work, not requiring his time, I told him that I should very much like to be able to give a good meat dinner once a week to a few of the most destitute children in my district. He then, having ascertained what I considered sufficient to provide a meat dinner for five-and-twenty children once a week for three months, gave me a cheque for the amount, and we gave our first dinner in the mission house on the following Saturday, the dinner having been prepared in our own kitchen, and the serving being done by my wife and myself, with the help of one or two friends.
    In the selection of the children I did not confine myself to those attending my own Sunday and Saturday schools, although they are all, without exception, the children of poor parents. I made it a condition that none should come to the dinners but those who were actually in destitute circumstances, and whose parents were too poor to provide them with meat or sufficient food of any kind; and I took the greatest pains to convince myself beforehand that such was really the case, by visiting all the poor families in my district, and by selecting the poorest children I could find. And when they were assembled on the day of the dinner, their appearance itself was enough [-190-] to convince any one that I had not made a mistake, and that in giving those poor children a wholesome meal we were not throwing money away. Many of them were barefooted; some of them cripples; and taken altogether, they were about as ragged, and rickety, and wretched, and starved-looking a little band as London could produce. But instead of being only twenty-five in number, it was found on the day of the dinner that I had by mistake given tickets to thirty-seven. Fortunately, however, we had also made a mistake in the quantity of food necessary for twenty-five, and found that we had enough for thirty-seven and something over.
    The same mistake was made the next week, and the next. In fact, I found it impossible to keep the number down to twenty-five, so many starving little children presented themselves to me, who could not be sent away hungry.
    But on the third Saturday, the lady whose husband had given me the means of providing the dinners brought her father here, and he very generously gave me five pounds towards providing dinners for a larger number of children. And during the last three months we have altogether given away more than six hundred good meat dinners, the whole of the actual outlay in money being covered by the donations of that one benevolent family.
    The behaviour of the children at these dinners is [-191-] worthy of all praise, considering the class from which they are taken. As most of them were unaccustomed to the use of a knife and fork, they naturally displayed some awkwardness in handling them at first, and it was found necessary in many cases to take time knives and forks away from them, and to let them manage as they could with a spoon. Even some of the older boys seemed to have been trained on time principle that as fingers were made before forks they were the proper things to eat with. But we have never lost either a fork or a spoon.

OUR SUNDAY SCHOOL

is so well attended that we are obliged to use the schoolroom, the Mission Church, the Vestry, and my private study; and if we had sufficient accommodation and an adequate staff of teachers, it would not be difficult to double or treble our numbers. My great difficulty in the Sunday School is to get teachers able and willing to undertake the management of boys' of the Street Arab class. I am very fond of them myself, but my teachers do not like them, and consequently cannot manage them. I have therefore lost a great many boys from ten to fifteen years of age from a want of teachers, I myself having a large Bible-class in my study every Sunday afternoon. I have the same difficulty with our [-192-]  

SATURDAY MORNING SCHOOL

which, as it is almost unique of its kind, deserves a word or two of special notice.
    It was instituted by the clergyman who first started this mission and worked it during the first six or seven years of its existence, the sole object of the school being to give religious instruction to poor children who attend Board schools, from which religion is excluded. The children come to the school every Saturday morning at ten, and remain till half-past eleven. Thins they get every week an hour-and-a-half of religious instruction in addition to that which is given in the Sunday School. The attendance varies from sixty up to a hundred and twenty. But practically many children are excluded from this school by the want of helpers, the only regular teacher being a gentleman of position who has taken a class in it from the beginning.
    The children who attend these schools are mostly the poorest of the poor, and although many of them are on Sundays dressed decently enough, still they are also poor. But even the raggedest and the dirtiest are not half as bad as they look, and when you come to know them you find amongst them as much amiability, and affection, and intelligence as amongst a far higher class of children.
    Only seven loaves and a few small fishes! what [-193-] are these among so many? Nothing! And yet the Master enables His disciples out of this small store to satisfy a vast multitude of hungry people. Let us not therefore despair because our present resources may appear infinitesimally small in comparison with the needs, whether spiritual or temporal, of the multitude; for He is still able to make a little good go a great way; and He has told us that

"A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENETH THE WHOLE LUMP."