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Read This Article Before the Tryptophan Kicks In
Happy Thanksgiving Eve…Eve! I’m sure it’s celebrated somewhere.
However, for 35 million people in our own country struggling to get food on the table, you can bet it’s not. While the nation’s food pantries and food banks will be harvesting the good will of many millions of other generous and kindhearted Americans on Thursday to make sure all can have a turkey on the table, the days before and the days after will be back to “making ends meet” (if that) for the nation’s hungry and food insecure citizens.
This isn’t meant as guilt-trip time, but rather a primer for a potent and challenging Op-Ed that appeared this past weekend in the Washington Post - When the Handouts Keep Coming, the Food Lines Never End.
The author, a former food bank director, poses tough and necessary questions about the fundamental motivations and uses for our charity in a nation of both plenty and hunger. His most challenging stance for people will be whether we as a country involved in hunger relief (from individuals to food banks) are really in the business of…well, putting ourselves out of business. Are we actually out to end hunger and empower people?
Reading this article actually reminded me in a lot of ways of the story of how Bread for the World was started – when a group of pastors in New York City had fired up their congregations to raise more money and food for their parish pantries. They noticed that they were succeeding in getting a lot more people fed…but the lines themselves weren’t getting any shorter. That’s when Art Simon, along with the others who joined in those early days, began Bread for the World to work on “building fences at the top of the cliff rather than always driving ambulances at the bottom.” To compliment good and necessary charity with all-important advocacy so that true systemic and social justice can be achieved. To wit, from the article:
Food banks are a dominant institution in this country, and
they assert their power at the local and state levels by commanding the
attention of people of good will who want to address hunger. Their ability to
attract volunteers and to raise money approaches that of major hospitals and
universities. While none of this is inherently wrong, it does distract the
public and policymakers from the task of harnessing the political will needed
to end hunger in the United States.
The risk is that the multibillion-dollar system of food banking has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, and so tied to its donors and its volunteers, that it cannot step back and ask if this is the best way to end hunger, food insecurity and their root cause, poverty.
All that to say, those quotes and the article in whole should provide plenty of fodder (or stuffing, if you will) for some vibrant debate in the comment section below or over your dinner table on Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings to you all!
"To support the poor without devoting ourselves to eliminating the causes of their poverty is neither justice nor patience. Ministry without advocacy is no ministry at all. It simply perpetuates a sinful system." Sister Joan Chittister.
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