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Confronting Covid with a Cape Wearing Ketchup Bottle


When I am asked “how did you cope with the Corona year?” the truthful answer is “I spent much of it with a talking, cape-wearing ketchup bottle and his friends!”

“What?!”

One morning in July 2020, I went to volunteer sorting and packing at my local food bank.

The Corona crisis was hitting hard, and the food bank was coming to the rescue.

What I experienced that morning was so inspiring. It took my breath away.

People were lined up to receive a warm, personal welcome, and bags of food essentials to take home for the week.

A team of enthusiastic, chatty volunteers were industriously sorting and packing donated food items. Amongst them I noticed a mother and her young son who were discreetly asking the food bank Manager if they could help themselves to some of the packets. They had felt compelled to choose the perceived dignity of volunteer status over literally being “on the other side of the fence”.

The sights and sounds and energy of the food bank. The colors and textures of the crated items. The sense of togetherness and love and relief in the air. The buzz and chatter and sociability of the atmosphere ignited so many emotions and thoughts in me.

I knew that I had to do something in order to share this experience. To celebrate this model of resilience, this tango being danced between people in need and people who give.

I also felt that there was a need to try to change any perceived stigma of “receivers”/ “clients”/”people in need” to something more egalitarian and respectful. After all, they are simply “shoppers”, and they can also volunteer as helpers. The fact that they are not required to pay for the food they receive is a detail that should not be defining their status.

As I Googled about food banks, I found that most of the language used was very clinical, and fighting talk. “Tackling food poverty”, ‘fighting hunger”. Surely there needed to be a softer approach, particularly when introducing children to the subject.

Not long afterwards, Kobe Ketchup was born.

A symbol of hope and unity. An ambassador of the wonders that can happen when community members, schools, care professionals, supermarkets interact to effect systems for kindness and nourishment. Raw love. Brightness and optimism. Rescue.

“Kobe Ketchup and the Food Bank Adventure” is intended not only as a tale, but as a tool to raise awareness and funds for food banks.

Once I had the storyline mapped out, I wrote the first draft. I could see the scenes and the characters in my mind, and I put together an illustration brief.

Finding children’s book illustrator Shirley Waisman to bring the scenes and characters to life so beautifully has been such a pleasure and a privilege. Reading the finished piece to my grandchildren for the first time was a particular highpoint. Teaming up with publisher Lemon Soul is a gift.

Creating Kobe Ketchup, Jay and Mum, Nao the Mayo and her Little Sachets, and their food bank adventure has filled my Corona year with meaning and vitality.

Yet our journey together is only just beginning.

Up, up and away…!

And looking forward to the next book in the series.

Madelaine Black