Surrounded by abundance, poor people had trouble buying food that really nourished them. Fat was cheap and filling, vegetables were complicated and scarce, so salt, grease, and sugar reigned.” – Sara Miles
FOR ME, PANTRIES ARE ALL ABOUT ABUNDANCE. Abundance and gratitude. Churches see pantries as an outreach project. And, of course, outreach is a popular term.
Many congregations love to support feeding the hungry – especially if the funds go to feed a group of children in Botswana, Somalia, India. The farther away the better, it seems. It’s when the outreach is local that things get a little dicey.
FEEDING THE HUNGRY IN A FOOD PANTRY IS AN ACT OF GRATITUDE. When we feed people, we own up to the amazing abundance in and around us. We also face the fact that we are spiritually hungry. Feeding the hungry in a food pantry addresses this spiritual hunger issue head on. It also addresses the physical issue. Pantry shoppers and volunteers are both surrounded by abundance. There are millions of pounds of food available to pantries and soup kitchens throughout our fair land, all of it diverted from a landfill. There is absolutely no reason, no excuse, for anyone in the good old U S of A to go hungry.
Based on my experience in a food pantry since 2005, it’s my opinion that people having trouble with the spiritual issues begin to question who should get food and who shouldn’t get food. For some, feeding the “unworthy hungry” meant we were feeding freeloaders. But not all hungry people look needy. Some of the best dressed people in Woodstock never spend a dime on their clothes. For one thing, they have no money for clothes. For another, they shop in the free store closet at Family of Woodstock.
THE PANTRY HAD THREE SHOPPERS WHO ESPECIALLY DIDN’T LOOK THE PART. They were young women, with children, who drove late model SUVs. I don’t know if they knew each other but their stories were similar. Two of them had been married to men with influential employment and money. Neither one of them received one dime from the husband in the separation process.
The younger one had one son and couldn’t work because her husband seriously injured her when he threw her against a wall. Her recovery was slow. She always came with her eight-year-old son. I got the feeling they went everywhere together.
I noticed right away that she chose items from shelves where bending was not necessary. That left out many items but she wanted to be as independent as possible.
Another woman, Elizabeth, was a little older. She had a house full of children including a set of twins. She just couldn’t get it together to work. And, I doubt if she could have gotten employment in our area anyway. This lovely lady had a Ph.D. There weren’t many jobs available in her career field. And, of course, once a woman gets an advanced degree, the lower level jobs are just not open to her unless she hides the education. Sometimes education can be hidden. Sometimes it can’t. It all depends on the situation. The main thing is to get rid of it on the resume.
Elizabeth was very open minded about the food she selected. With five children, she basically took anything that wasn’t tied down. She qualified for cases of USDA. So, Elizabeth left the pantry with a case of pasta sauce, canned corn, green beans, vegetarian beans, refries, etc. Her kids ate everything. When she finished shopping, Robert Allen, our youngest volunteer, always brought out the cart to put her groceries on and wheeled them to her car.
The third person was in a slightly different situation. She was a volunteer in our pantry with a degree, a house, two adorable daughters, and a spouse with a job somewhere in Europe. The spouse decided he wanted nothing more to do with either her or the children. No money was coming across the ocean for her and the two children.
Laura was very happy to take the vegetarian items available each week. Her children loved fresh vegetables so there was much to choose from. Laura’s girls also looked forward to yogurt as a treat.
SO…HERE WE HAVE THREE FAMILIES with no money for food, (or much of anything else for that matter.)
So…here we have three households, single-headed households in need of food. If not for a couple of years, then at least for several months.
So…where were the fathers in all this? Not paying the child support, that’s for sure.
NONE OF THESE HOUSEHOLDS IS HOMELESS ALTHOUGH they might be when the tax collector comes to call.
None of these households is in rags although they might be when the clothes wear out.
None of these households is without transportation although they might be when/if the vehicle needs expensive repairs.
None of these household members look the part.
UNWORTHY HUNGRY? WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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“It’s one thing to wish for things to be different in your life, and it’s something else to have the capacity to create the life you want.” – Sister Mohini
Every week more people came to the pantry for food than the week before. This phenomenon had been going on for months…years; ever since the fall of the economy in 2008. Some weeks we’d get ten new families.
And, of course, they all became regular shoppers.
“We’ve got to do something>” I said to Guy Oddo one afternoon.
“Yup” he aid “the parking lot’s dangerous. There’s going to be a wreck out there one of these days.”
Actually, there was. Someone ran into my car about two weeks ago. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Well, how about we put a volunteer in the parking lot to direct traffic.?”
“What if we limit the shopping time in the pantry?”
“Can we make some of these people park in the town lot down the street?”
So, we did all three things. Guy stood in the parking lot with maps to other parking lots in town. He distributed the maps while directing traffic. And, we further limited the shopping time in the pantry.
They kept coming, the new families. They needed the food.
not 100-degree afternoons,
not a totally packed parking lot,
not insults from pantry deniers stopped them.
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“I sometimes listen to politicians talk about the poor people, welfare and food stamps and notice no one ever talks about the enormous fear that comes with poverty and with the constant state of high anxiety. You feel as though there is a giant boulder gradually sliding down a mountainside towards you. Any disruption, any time day or night it could hurtle down and crush you.” – Sheila Moore
The first time I met the Pastor of Woodstock’s Christ Lutheran Church, she used a phrase I had never heard before: feeding the “unworthy hungry” as she lobbied against the new pantry guidelines set down by the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program. I was mystified. What did this term mean? Where did it originate? I heard it again, off and on, at pantry meetings and occasionally in the hallway.
Because this term came from a Lutheran Minister, I did some research. I went to my computer and googled “unworthy hungry”. Up came a list of websites, all of which referred to the text in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians, a book in the New Testament of the Bible, was written by Paul of Tarsus to followers in Corinth according to BibleStudyTools.com: “All believers are indispensable to the church.” The “unworthy hungry” I heard the Pastor refer to didn’t seem to match what I read at yearinthebible.com which spoke a lot about love: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.” Mark Mattison in auburn.edu, concluded “The next time your church celebrates communion, take a look around the room and consider the brothers and sisters with whom you are communing…Drink deeply of the cup of forgiveness and thank God that Christ is coming soon to usher us in to the banquet hall where we shall celebrate with the saints in the body.”
Everything here I read was confusing because I didn’t read “unworthy hungry” in any of the quotes. What was the connection?
If what I read in 1 Corinthians was correct, the people who came to the pantry are not the “unworthy hungry”. They are, instead, coming to receive communion in the most basic sense. Instead of a sip of wine and a bit of communion wafer, they receive the food they need to sustain themselves in the coming week.
1 Corinthians seems, to me, to be more about how to conduct the sacrament not how to feed the poor.
This confirms my theory that pantries are, indeed, religious services, churches if you will. The pantry service offers neither theology nor creed nor rituals. The pantry service works through love. Feeding the hungry is a sacrament.
The “unworthy hungry” term relates to the way people abused the Lord’s Supper. I never saw anybody in the line at the Good Neighbor Food Pantry abusing anything except maybe their feet as they stood for extended periods of time. These people were, for the most part, respectful, grateful, hopeful. They were trying to make their way through life with insufficient money, food, healthcare, transportation, education, spiritual support.
“Thurman, how can you serve food to her? Her son works and she has a car. She shouldn’t get food.”
“Thurman, that woman lives in Kingston. You gave food to a family from Shandaken last week. Our pantry should be for Woodstockers only.”
“Thurman, that person’s car is too nice. How can you give food to a person with a car like that?”
“Thurman, the cardboard boxes from the Food Bank create an eyesore when the church people are entering and leaving the building on pantry day. Please keep the cardboard out of sight.”
“Thurman, you are serving entirely too much food to these people. You can’t do this.”
“Thurman, why are you serving fresh fruits and vegetables in the pantry? You shouldn’t do this.”
“Thurman, you’ve begun to open the pantry in the afternoons. Our pantry should not be open in the afternoons.”
“Thurman, you’re serving entirely too many people.”
“Thurman, you’re serving all the wrong people here.”
“Thurman, you’re filling this building with vagrants and riffraff. You need to keep the riffraff out.”
“Thurman, you don’t serve this kind of food to these people. They’re going out of here with $70-80 worth of fresh produce. This is wrong. I’m going to tell Pastor Sonja, Ed Jabbs, and Pastor Bode about this. I’m very close to Pastor Sonja and she’s not going to be happy. You’re feeding the unworthy hungry.”
“Thurman, why is the pantry open two days each week?”
“Thurman, you shouldn’t feed this food to these people. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.
The term “unworthy hungry” was a popular phrase used as the amount and quality of food was discussed. The HPNAP guideline that the pantry serve a three-day-supply of food to include fresh produce, whole grain breads, and 1% milk was extremely unpopular to some people.
The subtext of this dialogue was that if the pantry didn’t give them the right kind of food or enough food, they would leave town…go to Kingston.
In order to understand the situation, a person needs to look at the whole picture.
Pantries are our tax dollars at work.
A popular refrain was that no one who lived outside of Woodstock should receive food from the pantry. Kingston had many pantries, soup kitchens, shelters. Saugerties had four pantries. Woodstock had two pantries. Bearsville had a pantry, Phoenicia had a pantry. Olivebridge had a pantry. Then there was a long dry spell until Margaretville. There were many poor and hungry people living along the Route 28 corridor from Woodstock to Margaretville. Where were these people to go for food?
They hitch hiked in. They rode the bus. They piled in cars. They came to the pantry in any and all kinds of weather.
They were hungry.
The struggle to get food to where it’s needed is never ending. The needs of the hungry were great. All we did, as a pantry, was open the door and let the hundreds of hungry people walk in…in groups of five.
But, that was only part of the story. At the lowest rung of the poverty ladder, it’s not what pantry the household is nearest. It’s where they can get to. If a person lives in Saugerties, for example, and the nearest pantry is open on Monday, it will be of no use to the person who can’t get to the pantry on Monday. However, if the pantry in Woodstock is open on Wednesday and the person can get a ride on Wednesday to the pantry, then that’s the pantry which will be used.
Pantry deniers concerned with feeding the “unworthy hungry” need to consider the source of both the food and the money. The Good Neighbor Food Pantry, a tax exempt 501(c)3 corporation, received funding from many sources outside Woodstock. The majority of the food came from Food Banks located in Latham and Cornwall.
Sponsors are very important to a pantry. Good Neighbor Food Pantry sponsors came from many locations. The Boy Scout Food Drive originated in Kingston at the Boy Scout Headquarters. The food itself came each year from a troop in Glenford. The annual United States Postal Service Food Drive included food from all over Ulster County. Shoprite in Kingston donated money annually. Wakefern Corporation donated funds annually to our pantry from their office in New Jersey. Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Kingston and Catskill donated money. Hannaford’s in Kingston donated food boxes in December. One Saugerties family donated over $3000 annually. Markertek in Saugerties donated funds to the pantry. The ancient Order of Hibernians in Kingston donated money.
The list of individual donors located outside Woodstock is pages long. People throughout the country feel a connection to Woodstock and want to share.
Ethically, in order for the Good Neighbor Food Pantry to refuse to serve households outside of Woodstock, the pantry would also have to refuse donations from businesses, foundations, and individuals outside Woodstock. The pantry would have to stop getting food from the Food Banks.
Funding the pantry received from out-of-the-area donors far outweighed the shoppers who lived beyond the 12498 zip code.
I felt compelled to refer to Jesus. When Jesus fed people, he never asked who they were, where they lived, why they needed food. He simply fed the people. He made no mention of requiring people to show proper ID or live in a particular zip code. Additionally, He never preoccupied Himself with their character. He cared not whether they were ill, wealthy, thieves, criminals, etc. If they were hungry, they were fed.
In any event, both the argument I heard about feeding the “unworthy hungry” and my rebuttal never really amounted to more than so much hot air and anger being spread around the room.
The State of New York, through the management policies and guidelines of the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) determines who gets fed and who doesn’t get fed in a pantry. They are crystal clear. In 2012, a directive entitled “Open to the Public” was handed down to agencies. The “Open to the Public” feeding program policy includes all populations without regard to gender, race, color, ethnicity, age, nationality, citizenship, marital status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, income, disability, or health status. We do not exclude any population group from receiving services upon first request or repeat visits to our pantry.
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Peace and food for all.