Onjali Q. Rauf has written an important piece for the FCBG blog about the topic contained within the pages of her latest book, published by Barrington Stoke. Read on for her special words.
Have you ever met a group of people whose daily struggles put all your own to shame? A group so dignified in their hardships that somehow, they insert an element of magic into them? A magic that doesn’t come without immense effort of course, but which lightens the load for the ones they love no end?
I am incredibly lucky to say that I have. Countless times, and in circumstances which all seem unfathomable in their very existence in this, the year 2021.
One such group is a small family of four, whom I met a couple of years ago through my various works with different London-based homeless communities. A family headed by one of our earth’s many hard-working single mothers who live every day on a breadline that shouldn’t exist, and three small children abandoned by a father who upped sticks and never looked back on any of them.
I have met many such families in my works, each struggling to cope with the harsh and difficult circumstances they find themselves in through no fault of their own. But this family was different – they were incredibly special. Because thanks to their spectacular, hard-working mum, this nucleus of hearts lived in a world which revolved around making everything into a game. Whether that be the long walk to school because they couldn’t afford to take the bus every day, or a sparse meal they wished could be a feast.
This family (who wish to go unnamed) inspired the characters of Nelson, his little sister Ashley, and their mum, who take centre-stage in The Great Food Bank Heist. Written for Barrington Stokes, the story is narrated by Nelson, a young boy struggling with the devastating emptiness that comes with not having enough food to eat – despite his mother working all hours and inventing games to try and ease the situation they are in. Reliant on his school’s Breakfast Club for that much needed staple of daily fuel, fears and hunger pangs escalate as rumours that the local food bank is being stolen from begin to grow in strength. Cue a mystery-solving adventure, as Nelson and his best friends Harriet and Krish, try to catch the thieves whose actions are causing his family and friends to suffer.
The topic of food poverty is now an issue everyone is fully aware of following the brilliant and tireless campaigns of Marcus Rashford, Jack Monroe and Dame Emma Thompson. Three people without whom this story would not exist either. For had it not been for them, I don’t believe I would have allowed the memories of being teased at school for having to have Free School Meals, or seeing friends on the council estate I lived in getting tummy aches because their families couldn’t make ends meet, resurface.
It will always remain a staggering fact that despite living in a time when food production excesses lead to the discarding of over four million tonnes (tonnes!) of food in the UK alone, we still have over eight million people starving, daily. Nearly a million of whom are children. It is an injustice that just does not compute, aggravated by so many other injustices – from greedy landlords to wage gaps – which too many daily endure. All injustices which I hope Nelson and his friends, in their own small way, will help a coming generation understand, empathise with, and perhaps even begin to forge real solutions for.