"Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day. Teach a man how to fish and he will never go hungry again."
It was a Sunday morning in the summer of 2010. I drove to church through Stokes Croft and as I waited at red traffic light just outside Hamilton House, to my left side I noticed an elderly gentleman laying on the pavement motionless. He was dressed in jacket, tie and shirt. Admittedly, all had seen much better days but I felt it was an admirable attempt to retain at least some degree of dignity in the face of such humiliation. People walked by going about their day, it seemed not even noticing the man on the floor. The immense sadness of the sight struck me to the core. This is someone's son. Maybe someone's father, brother or uncle. It was all so wrong.
The light turned to green and I drove on the 300 yards or so to my church in Jamaica Street. I got out of the car and locked the doors. I went into the church with a happy to see you 'good morning' to those I passed on the way to my seat. Then, as I sat down in the chair I suddenly realised I had done the exact same thing as everyone else and just passed by the man on the floor. I felt ashamed of myself and vowed there and then to do whatever I could to help the many 'people on the floor' and not walk on by ever again. This was the moment I decided to establish a charity to tackle the problem! I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to do it but just felt I had to at least try.
Initially, I conducted in-depth research in a quest to understand what services existed and how people in need were being helped. It became clear that some people were 'falling through the gaps' in the service provision available, and we needed to create a pioneering approach, holistic by nature, that caught the victims affected in this way.
Our biggest challenge was how to connect and engage with people at risk, of homelessness and destitution, before it is too late. Common sense tells us, when someone is struggling to pay their rent and bills and have unmanageable debts or very low income, they won’t have enough money for food and will be missing meals.
The simple and compassionate act of giving people food on a weekly basis created a safe and positive environment to begin to build relationship and understanding of each person’s circumstances and it is from these conversations, and this learning, that we shaped and developed our work into what it is today. By the end of 2021 The Matthew Tree Project has helped over 12,000 people escape a life of poverty and provided the food equivalent of over 2.1 million meals to people in need.
I recall that day in the summertime of 2010, and now I see the hundreds of amazing people who give of their time and money so freely to compassionately help the people off the floor because they too are not prepared to walk on by, and my heart jumps for joy.
Mark Goodway - Founder of The Matthew Tree Project