Where Face Paint and Foreign Aid Meet
When God calls us to “open wide” our hands to the needy and poor in our land (Deuteronomy 15) and pour ourselves out for the hungry (Isaiah 58), God leaves the specifics up to us. We can respond in myriad ways: We can attend rallies, write letters, make calls, and arrange meetings with our legislators. We can give to aid organizations, donate to the food pantry, or volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
We can even take those dictates literally by actually sharing a meal with hungry people. For example, in Cambridge I’ve had the pleasure of befriending Engio, who has a predilection for cheeseburgers; Mike, who likes to eat chicken fried rice with his hands; and Harold, a gourmand who loves to make his own pizza—and who was so aghast at my weekly spam and rice dinners that he once surprised me with a grocery bag full of fresh foods, including fruit, pie, and pre-cooked chicken wings. “Anything but spam, please!” he said. Given his nonexistent income, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Yet most of these responses, at least for me, preclude participation from my large and rather diverse network of friends. Few—including myself, I admit—are super excited to give up part of their workday to visit their senators or representative at the local office, for example. Food pantries can accommodate only so many volunteers each evening, and outside of church and campus, there are few natural opportunities to organize an Offering of Letters.
As I celebrated my 26th birthday this year, however, I decided to put another spin on responding biblically to hunger by fusing fun with purpose: I threw a huge party.
At 26, there was surprisingly little on my birthday wish list—AmeriCorps stipend and food stamps notwithstanding—though I admit it helps that God has blessed me with relatively good health and a childlike affinity for low-cost activities, such as kite-flying and playing with the local stray cat, Mr. Tinkles. Besides, I had already managed to procure animal crackers, juice boxes, and even my favorite dessert—pecan pie—for my “Back to Childhood”-themed birthday party.
Instead of asking for presents or cards, I invited my friends to come bearing costumes and a different kind of gift—a letter for their senator or representative advocating for the prioritization and reform of foreign aid. I tracked their gifts on a Google doc I shared with them and, for those who hadn’t had time to write their letters, set up a letter-writing station right next to our face-painting station and our smorgasbord of Yoohoos, Twizzlers, and Junior Scrabble Cheez-its. (I admit that the childhood theme doesn’t make for the healthiest party foods.)
With preprinted letter templates, pens, and paper, all it took was five minutes for my friends to handwrite a letter. In the end, I collected a whopping 30 letters from friends across six different states.
My party took place the day before my actual birthday, and I ended up spending much of my birthday tracking their letters, stuffing envelopes, looking up mailing addresses, and placing adhesive stamps—all over bites of leftover pecan pie, of course.
And in the end, I couldn’t have imagined a more meaningful way to celebrate turning 26.
Ada Wan is a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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