Repaying St Anthony…
Often I have grand plans of depositing big wads of money into the box marked St Anthony’s Bread which is a shiny black box next to the statue of St Anthony in the Oratory. But I don’t have folds of greenbacks to spare. So instead I collect my spare change like the piles in the photo below.
When I get pennies and pounds as change in the supermarket, I keep them to one side. And then when I’m in the Oratory, I mentally say thank you to St Anthony for his latest finds including the blusher, as I stuff the coins into the shiny box. Today, someone had put two pennies into the lily in St Anthony’s hand and there was pieces of paper that looked like a bill scrunched up and placed in the crook of his arm.
People have commented to me that they don’t donate money to St Anthony’s Bread – in the South Kensington Oratory – because “the people who live around the Oratory have plenty of money and don’t need my hard earned cash. Those rich yuppies will never need food to keep them from starving.”
South Kensington might be swanky. But the poor will always be with us, even in South Ken.
I remember being in a supermarket queue in South Kensington where some of the other customers had matching Chanel/Hermes handbags and shoes. But behind me, I overheard a couple arguing about whether they could afford various items in a basket.
They were well-dressed and middle-aged and married. From the conversation, the mum obviously stayed at home with the kids and the dad had just lost his job. And their money seemed to be running out fast. They decided that they could keep the pasta and the apples, but they were bickering over whether or not they could afford a can of tomatoes that cost forty pence (about the equivalent of eighty cents).
‘We can have the pasta – without the tinned tomatoes,’ the husband said, picking up the red can.
‘But pasta on its own is hardly a meal!’ wailed the wife, who was dressed in a smart purple shirt, but whose ridged brow and pleading eyes betrayed her distress. She took the red can from her hubbies’ hands and put it back in the basket.
‘Was there a cheaper brand of tinned tomatoes?’ he asked.
‘No – this is the cheapest. I looked all over the shelves for something cheaper!’
‘We can’t buy this,’ the husband shook his head, ‘if we keep up little expenses here and there, like this tin, then we’ll run out of money,’ he said dolefully and stared at the ground.
‘No, we won’t run out of money because you’ll get a new job that will bring in new money,’ the wife said anxiously, trying to stay cheerful.
‘There’s no guarantee that a new job is around the corner. In the meantime, this can of tomatoes goes back.’
The man took out the can and put it on a shelf. The wife walked over to the shelf, grabbed the can and put it back in the basket. The husband took it out of the basket and glared at it, like it was a hand grenade.
I thought about offering them a fifty pence coin, to cover the cost of the tinned tomatoes. But in London that would have shown a greater lack of charity. The couple were tetchy and on edge. They didn’t, however, notice that their argument could be overheard by the other people in the queue. Had they found out that I had heard their squabble about the tin; they would have been embarrassed and they would have ‘lost face’ in their local neighbourhood. Their nerves were fragile enough; finding out that a spectator had seen their tiff about a tin could have driven them closer to breaking point. In London, it’s also ‘not done’ to join the conversation of two perfect strangers.
So, I put my spare change into St Anthony’s shiny black collection box and hope that perfect strangers who have fallen on hard times and can’t afford to put bread on the table might have their hunger pangs relieved by some St Anthony’s Bread.