The Harvest Festival

By Rose Heiney

It was Sunday and Sally was having a rotten morning. It was the day of the Harvest Festival at church - a service of thanksgiving for all the food everyone had to eat. The church had already been decorated with sheaves of corn and special hymns would be sung and - most importantly - everyone would bring some food from home for a huge collection. The food would be given to a local food bank - but some would be kept and cooked into a feast after the service, which everyone at church would enjoy together.

There wasn’t much joy at Sally’s, though. They’d had such a busy week! Sally had been doing tests at school, her Mum’s job was frantic and her Dad had been away on business until late last night. Usually they planned ahead and did a special shop for the food collection. But not this year - it had slipped their minds.

'What are we going to do?' said Sally’s Mum. 'We’ve got church in five minutes!'

'Why do we have to bring anything?' said Sally. 'It just gets laid out on the table and gawped at.'

'No, that’s not true, Sally! Remember - it’s for the food bank - for people who can’t afford enough food.'

Sally snorted. 'That’s ridiculous. Surely everyone can afford food.'

Her Mum didn’t have time to answer her - she was going through the cupboards in a panic.

'We’re going to have to give them your cereal, Sally, I’m afraid...'

'NO!' said Sally. 'That’s MY cereal! MINE!'

Then Dad popped his head round the door and said: “Maybe we could bring some vegetables from my vegetable patch in the garden!”

'NO!” said Sally, horrified. 'Not the wonky vegetables! Anything but that!'

Dad’s vegetables were so embarrassing!

Her Mum snatched Sally’s cereal bowl away and bundled everyone into the car empty-handed. 'Too late now! We’re just going to have to go with nothing.'

So Sally and her parents drove to the church empty-handed. Sure enough, everyone else was laying out donations on a table. Sally wandered over and looked at all the food. She felt a bit embarrassed not to have brought anything, but she knew she was right, really. Nobody wanted wonky vegetables.

'OK, dear?' Sally turned round. It was Samira, a lady from church. Samira was laying tins and packets and bars of chocolate out on the table.

'Yes, I’m fine,' said Sally. 'Just thinking how this is all a bit pointless.'

Samira laughed. 'Pointless?'

'Yeah. Who actually needs all this? Doesn’t everyone have their own food?'

Samira paused. 'Well...I didn’t,' she said. 'Not enough, anyway. Last year, for two months. But the food bank came to our rescue. Me and the children.'

'You mean you couldn’t afford to eat?'

Sally was shocked.

'Mm-hm,' said Samira. 'I lost my job and couldn’t get another. I was really struggling to make ends meet - down to my last pound. But the food bank helped to keep us fed - even provided the odd treat, like chocolate cereal, to keep the children happy.'

'Chocolate cereal...' said Sally, thinking of home.

'That was last year - everything’s fine now,' said Samira. 'But I can’t help thinking that what happened to us could happen to - well - anyone.'

Sally’s eyes filled with tears as she realised how unkind she’d been.

'Samira. Could you please drive me quickly to my house and back? There’s something I need to get. I’m just popping out with Samira for five minutes!' she called to her Mum and Dad, and they waved her off.

So Samira drove Sally home and Sally rushed in and grabbed her favourite chocolate cereal from the cupboard. Then she went into the garden and quickly dug up some of her Dad’s awful potatoes and rinsed them in the sink.

'OK Samira! Let’s go, go, go!'

They made it back just in time for the service. Sally rushed up to her Mum and Dad and said: 'I’m sorry I was so selfish! Your vegetables are very nice, Dad. I shouldn’t have been rude about them.'

Then she went and put her donations on the food table, with pride. And just then the cook who was making the feast appeared and said: 'Potatoes! Good! I’d just run out. Don’t worry about their shape. They’re going to be mashed anyway.'

Sally grinned and sat down. She loved mashed potatoes. And after today she knew she wouldn’t take them for granted again.

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