Oliver Twist Has Asked for More: A Partnership between Arts & Community Service

Food. It’s a necessity. 
A meal. It’s a symbol of love, of connection, and of family.

As I go throughout my day, I don’t consciously think about these things. My experience, however, is not shared by those living with food insecurity. Those most affected by food insecurity are members of communities that are the most vulnerable. These communities are marginalized and rendered invisible within our larger culture of plenty.

In an effort to give some relief to those suffering within our community, Virginia Stage Company is partnering with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore for the #ARTwithaTWIST competition by collecting nonperishable food donations during the opening weekend of the new, electric adaptation Oliver Twist.

Going through my day without the gnawing pang of hunger in my belly is a blessing for which thousands of people within our community hope. I have never wondered where my next meal was coming from, and growing up, my family sat together to eat dinner almost every night. It’s easy to become blind to the issue of food insecurity in America while I open my loaded fridge and say to myself, “There is nothing to eat in here.” I don’t see hunger, and many Americans don’t either. However, this blindness is a privilege that we have to work together to dismantle.   

As Virginia Stage Company begins rehearsals for Oliver Twist, we are reminded of a time of extreme inequity. In 1842, three years after Charles Dickens finished releasing the serial novel Oliver Twist, the British government produced a report on child labor. In their report they uncovered issues of mistreatment, accessibility, and hunger. Children worked to bring home money to their families who were trying to make ends meet and keep their families fed. 

“Extract from Messrs. Williams & Jones Tobacco Manufactory, Chester.
Robert Johnson, aged 11.

Have you sufficient food and good clothes?
We have bread and butter at breakfast, and potatoes and bacon for dinner, and in the evening we have tea or coffee and bread and butter or we have bread and milk. I have very poor clothes, scarcely more than what I have on, except a shirt or two.
Have you knives and forks and a table-cloth at dinner?
No, we use a spoon and our fingers.” (1842 Report).

An interview with Philip Hughes, a 9-year-old factory worker, shows similar conditions and a sparse diet, “I get bread, or potatoes and milk for my meals, and about three times a-week I get meat, bacon.” The issues hunger of the early 19th century are not as removed from us as we may think. In 2016, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore has distributed meals to around 182,900 people within our community and along the Eastern Shore.

182,900 people. 

The demands of meeting the needs of that many people are hard to imagine. The size of the operation requires that community members take part either through donating food, money, or time.

By partnering with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, we can work together to support programs like the Kid’s Cafe and the BackPack program. In Victorian times, there was no recourse for those without enough to eat, and like today, children were most affected. These programs ensure that children within our community thrive and do not have to endure the same conditions as their Victorian counterparts. Donations for the Art with a Twist competition and food drive will support these programs and others like them. 

The Kids Cafe is a national after school program that the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore administers here in Hampton Roads. According to the Foodbank, the Kids Cafe “is a place where children ages 5 through 18 can go to receive free, nutritious evening meals in a safe, supportive environment. Seventeen Kids Cafes are currently operating, conveniently located in low-income neighborhoods so participating children can walk or bicycle to these sites after school.” 2,152 children have received a meal from the Kids Cafe this year. The BackPack program is another invaluable resource for children in the area living with food insecurity. “This nationally-recognized program distributes nutritious food to children at the end of the school day, before weekends, and/or school breaks. Bags/backpacks are filled with food that children take home on weekends. Food is child-friendly, non-perishable, and easily-consumed. Bags/backpacks are discreetly distributed to children on the last day before the weekend or holiday vacation.” In 2016, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore served 3,400 children in Hampton Roads and along the Eastern Shore and provided 357,000 meals with this award winning program. 

According to Taylor Miller, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Foodbank, although these numbers are incredible and worth celebrating, there is still much to do and many more people to serve. When Oliver Twist asks for more, he is symbolically asking for more for all who don’t have enough. Virginia Stage Company and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore are working together to answer his plea over 150 years later. 

  • For more information about the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and volunteer opportunities take a look at their website.
  • For more information about the #ARTwithaTWIST competition check out our blog.
  • Click these links for more info about the new music driven adaptation of Oliver Twist and for tickets.