Plinths and Pennies: A True Story Of Small Change

I was in Trafalgar Square yesterday, watching my friend Sue Mason take part in One & Other, the mass public art project that’s going on there until October. Individuals spend an hour on the empty statuary plinth at one corner of the square doing whatever they like that’s legal. (The guy up there before Sue re-enacted classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar; the one after her wore an acid green leotard and released giant inflatable bananas, pineapples and palm trees from a small tent. Modern art is truly amazing.)

Sue had planned to belly-dance her hour away, but the plinth is too small for a good performance. So she did a sort of life-arts-and-comics stand-up, online here. She talked for an hour about her own work (as far as we know she is the only Hugo Award winner to occupy the plinth so far,) friends famous and infamous, cats, and life in general.

One of her life-in-general riffs was about a small charity she supports. I came home thinking about it and looked at their website. I was so impressed by what I found there that I wanted to tell you about it too.

Mary’s Meals can feed a child in a poor country for as little as £6.15 a year. That’s around ten bucks if you’re in America.

Yes, that’s right, £6.15 – less than the price of a paperback, two comics, or a DVD. Less than the price of a couple of pints, or not much more than the price of a sandwich and a coffee. For a year’s worth of daily meals. If I put tuppence in a jar on the kitchen counter every day, at the end of a year I’d have enough to feed a hungry child until the end of the next year. If I’d sent the money to Mary’s Meals instead of having a snack before going to watch Sue, if I put off buying that manga volume or treating myself to some needlework goodies at the weekend, a child in Malawi or the Ukraine or Haiti could have a square meal a day for the next year.

I didn’t feel guilty, and I don’t want you to feel guilty – but I did feel humble, and lucky, and inspired to do something about it. I decided to give Mary’s Meals some money. I suspect quite a few of the other people who listened to Sue and then checked out the website did the same. We all have our little indulgences and that’s OK, but if giving up just one little indulgence can put food in a starving child’s belly for a year, that sounds like a good deal to me. I know people sometimes think that doing a tiny thing doesn’t make much difference, but they’re wrong.

Mary’s Meals had me at hello, but money’s tight these days and most of us have our own causes to support. So if you need further inducement to visit the website and think about giving, here are a few more good reasons. The food support is organised locally, using locally purchased staples wherever possible. This supports local farmers in getting a fair price for their crop, and reduces the impact of transporting food on the environment. Local volunteers cook ands serve the food, involving the whole community in the process.

Best of all, the meals are provided at schools. Children who would otherwise have to spend all day working, begging or scavenging for food are able to enrol in school and start their studies with a full belly. They learn better and study longer, so they can begin to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance that depresses so many communities and makes them easy targets for exploitation. School feeding is probably the single most effective tool to draw poor children to school and keep them there.

Mary’s Meals doesn’t get Government grants or funding from any huge programmes. It’s non-denominational, non-political and entirely dependent on individual goodwill and private donations. To keep costs down and streamline administration, it operates its funding via Scottish International Relief, but donations still go into the feeding programme unless you choose to let SIR use the money elsewhere. You can use this link to donate via credit card or Paypal, send them a cheque, or phone in your money. They can take donations in dollars too.

Tuppence a day. I’ve been thinking all morning about what would happen if everybody I know put tuppence a day aside for a year, then sent it to Mary’s Meals.

There are lots of quicker ways, of course. 90% of the children of Albania are malnourished. If I walk to the shops and back instead of getting the bus, the price of three return journeys will give that tragic statistic one tiny nudge in the right direction in less than a week.

If you do the same, and put this story on your blog and your Facebook page, together we might give the statistics on starvation and ignorance a whacking great shove.

Think about it. Please.

2 thoughts on “Plinths and Pennies: A True Story Of Small Change

  1. Hello there,

    Sue Mason asked me to take a look at your blog and I have to say I’m delighted with the excellent comments and support for Mary’s Meals. It makes me smile whenever someone discovers Mary’s Meals for the first time – I’ve now been volunteering for the last three years and I still get a real buzz when I see what we can do.

    Again, thanks for your good words.


    Tim Olsen
    Community Animator – Mary’s Meals

    • Hello Tim,

      Sue really is the most amazing catalyst, isn’t she?

      I just can’t see how anyone could NOT support something as simple and effective as Mary’s Meals. Feeding and educating kids is so obviously a Good Thing, and doing it with maximum local involvement and minimum bureaucracy/costs is even better. (Mind you, I’ve been having a running argument on Facebook ever since I posted about it there!) Since spreading the word a bit further costs even less than feeding a child for a year, I’m happy to have had the chance to do it.



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