Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Compassion in a Can

Yesterday, President Bush helped load boxes of fresh oranges, potatoes, and macaroni and cheese for distribution to the needy at a food bank in Charles City, Virginia. The food bank serves about 101,000 children, homeless, elderly, working poor, disabled, battered women, newly unemployed, victims of natural disasters, the mentally ill, and single-parent families each month, according to Faye Lohr, the food bank’s chief executive officer.

“I thank you for what you are doing,” Bush told Lohr.

But are food banks the answer to the problem of hunger?

Mark Winne tackled this question in his editorial, When Handouts Keep Coming, the Food Line Never Ends, in Sunday’s Washington Post. Winne writes:
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.

During my tenure in Hartford, I often wondered what would happen if the collective energy that went into soliciting and distributing food were put into ending hunger and poverty instead. Surely it would have a sizable impact if 3,000 Hartford-area volunteers, led by some of Connecticut's most privileged and respected citizens, showed up one day at the state legislature, demanding enough resources to end hunger and poverty. Multiply those volunteers by three or four -- the number of volunteers in the state's other food banks and hundreds of emergency food sites -- and you would have enough people to dismantle the Connecticut state capitol brick by brick. Put all the emergency food volunteers and staff and board members from across the country on buses to Washington, to tell Congress to mandate a living wage, health care for all and adequate employment and child-care programs, and you would have a convoy that might stretch from New York City to our nation's capital.

I don’t write this to discourage you from giving to your local food bank or volunteering in a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving. They need your support as more and more of the working poor find themselves needing the help of their local pantry to make it through the end of the month. Some food banks are reporting increases in need of 10%, 20% and even 35% over last year. And with the prospect of skyrocketing home heating bills this winter, food banks that previously gave a week’s worth of food may only be able to provide for three or four days. So please be generous this Thanksgiving. But know this, the answer is not to build bigger food warehouses. As Winne concludes:

We know hunger's cause -- poverty. We know its solution -- end poverty. Let this Thanksgiving remind us of that task.

And we can count on our president to do his part…and pardon a couple of turkeys. At least they’ll eat well for the rest of their natural lives.

Now that just isn't natural...

For effortless feeding click on freerice and thehungersite.


No comments: