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#SoupKitchen21: A light in the dark - The lifeguards of our community

The Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen are on the front line of a battle against hunger, starvation, malnutrition and homelessness, and being able to support them makes everything we do here at RR worthwhile.

Ross Johnson - @RJXMEDIA

I love days like today because they give me hope.

It’s something that makes everything we do at Roker Report, everything we do as the Roker Rapport Podcast, truly worth it. Just the opportunity to help people we have the utmost respect and admiration for – it’s a wonderful thing.

The response to the first RR Fundraiser back in 2019 blew us all away with the generosity shown, and it still fills me with joy just thinking about it – our fans came together at a ridiculously testing time and people pushed through and managed to raise a significant amount of money and awareness for those in our community who needed it the most.

It’s also on days like today that I think about people like Lloyd Pinder – a man who unfortunately is no longer with us and who I never had the opportunity to meet, but who pushed that campaign in 2019 to new heights day by day. It was done in a funny way by Lloyd and others: we’d set a target to beat and lo and behold, someone would swoop in with another donation to push us clear of that target – along with a fresh drive by the many supporters of the fundraiser – and that then created our next target.

Following his death in September of 2020, there was a touching tribute to him from his good friend Jeff Stelling live on air which brings me to tears every time I see it and it makes you want to have known the man... but we didn’t know Lloyd.

We had occasionally interacted with him but as far as I’m aware he knew very little about us at RR as people, and I’m not sure if he agreed with a great many of our opinions regarding our beloved Sunderland AFC or not - in turn we knew little about him as a person beyond his public fight with the prostate cancer that eventually took his life and, of course, his drive to increase awareness about the disease and his own fundraising efforts, which were ridiculously successful.

He simply saw our call for help – wanted to help – and did so.

I don’t think we ever got the opportunity to adequately thank him for his time, his effort and his many donations. I’d like to take this opportunity at this moment to thank him now – wherever he may be – I wish him fair winds and following seas.

There were many like Lloyd who helped drive those fundraisers forward, when he was no longer there pushing our targets up at a rate of knots many others stepped in to help. Even people who have no love for RR itself – I know right you’d be shocked at how many people we have fallings out with – lent a hand to our cause.

And this entire experience (as we smashed the targets set for the fundraiser in 2020) once again opened our eyes to something.

For all our fights with one another, for all our disagreements with one another as a group of people over footballing opinions, theological disputes, political leanings, and various other arguments that rage away on a daily basis online and offline; when we know that there are people in need, we help them together.

We, as a fanbase, unite in a way we rarely see on the terraces, in the stands, on the message boards, on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere fans of a club can gather.

Herein lies our strength – arguably the most important of any we have as a fanbase, a region and a city (and I’m not discounting or ignoring those who aren’t Sunlun fans or who have no connection to our city or region at all, and yet still give their time and their money to people they may never meet).

I’m simply saying that when it comes to getting this sort of thing done, lads and lasses, we all get it done by any means necessary.

If bairns need feeding, we try to get them fed.

If people are freezing, we try to get them warm.

And if there is something we can do together to help as many people as possible at once... we will all do everything in our power to do so.

This simply can’t be questioned when you look at previous campaigns involving the Sunderland AFC fanbase.

Ultimately – at times of great need – our basic humanity transcends our often petty rivalries, and that is the greatest strength any group of people can have.

We have, as a city and a region, an incredibly big heart.

Now, since the last fundraiser, the dire need present in our community – due to financial difficulties countrywide we won’t go into in too great detail – has increased and looks set to increase yet further as time goes on.

It is a terrifying and horrible reality that many people are suffering every day.

You reading this may be one of those people.

You, like many others, may lay awake at night not knowing what to do next. You may worry about your children, about your family and your ability to keep them fed, warm and healthy.

You may be struggling to keep a roof over your head. You may struggle with mental health problems, physical health problems, you may be trying to get over a difficult relationship, you may be trying to leave an abusive partner, or attempting to overcome any number of obstacles. You may make any number of sacrifices in order to ensure you can provide what is required for yourself and for others, but you could be worried about what the future holds in spite of all your efforts.

We are all in some way vulnerable to the struggles that life brings.

Some of us can do well, some of us can keep our heads above water... but some of us can feel that same water splashing around our chin, can feel the tightening grip as that water gets colder the further out we get, some of us are already submerged beneath and are thrashing around looking through at the increasingly distant and blurry lights and shapes we used to associate with hope.

Reaching out to anyone, often silently as far as the world is concerned, such is the noise of the crashing waves and the cries of so many others stranded out there with us.

Just reaching out to someone who can throw us a lifeline.

Unfortunately, some people struggle too long, too silently, and the ocean takes them before anyone can reach a hand in to pull them clear, to put an arm and a blanket around them and calm them, to warm them up and show them kindness.

To remind them that they’re not alone, that there are many people watching out for signs of distress, who can help them if they can reach them in time... and Andrea and her team at SCSK are among the first to the water’s edge.

Something heard a lot recently is the term front line, and there are many on the front lines in many walks of life; who put themselves at risk to help others, who give up their lives to save others, who dedicate themselves to worthy causes for the betterment of others’ lives.

The Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen, the charities and foodbanks around the country are now (and have been for some time) on the front line of a battle against hunger, starvation, malnutrition and homelessness.

They stand against hopelessness and against the struggles anyone in a modern society can face. They are the self-appointed lifeguards of their communities. They can provide access to help beyond your next meal, and the people that run these organisations and work endlessly to do all of this are often the only light in the darkness as some lifelines offered are withdrawn... or come with a catch and a list of questions about how you’ve lived your life up to that point.

“Do you deserve our help?” comes the cry from the overly jovial man on the boat.

I can’t find an adequate way to describe my admiration for people like those who make up SCSK and those like them – groups of people so dedicated to helping others and so aware of the terrible reality that it’s all they can ever do to try and keep reaching in, keep pulling people out, keep accepting with open arms those that need them the most.

Without these people, without these charities, without those who support their efforts, people will suffer and die.

Even despite the effort we know those who hold the line make, those in need die in our villages, our towns and in our cities.

But many more would suffer unnecessarily and never receive the help they need in time without these beacons of hope. They would continue to drown because the lifeguards put in place by those people in big beautiful buildings – who shy away from the cold and suffering of the masses, the stinging salt and bitter wind of the jagged coastline and oft perilous cliff edge that is modern life – are few for reasons too numerous to list, and the ocean is simply too vast for those on duty to notice all the flailing arms in the darkness.

I simply ask you all this Christmas, again, to do what I know you all do best. However you can help, however small the donation in your mind, it makes all the difference. Sharing the campaign with anyone you know makes all the difference.

Together – across not just our city but across our country – we as communities can help those within our community who wade into the vast, dark, cold water … often before a government lifeboat – blue or red – can gather enough votes among those on board to make a decision whether it can afford to turn on its lamp.

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