Friday, May 25, 2012

Faith Works 5-26

Faith Works 5-26-12

Jeff Gill


Late night at the grocery store



With the last of five well-attended community meetings about hunger in Licking County, there are some new possibilities which you'll hear about over these next few months.


The Mid-Ohio Food Bank team, Matt Habash's excellent staff, field-tested a process here because, well, because we have Chuck Moore and most other counties don't. I know Chuck will read this and cringe, but tough! The Food Pantry Network of Licking County is indeed a team effort, and the dozens of church groups and a few other groups who staff and support the direct service around the county to families in need are the real heroes, as I know Chuck would say, but his spirit and energy shine out beyond even our geographically large county's boundaries.


I'm not on their board, but I work with many of their board members, and they would be first to say our spirit of co-operation and collaboration and willingness to just dive in and do what needs to be done is spearheaded by Chuck's sacrificial spirit. He's out there, and anyone working alongside knows they'd better keep up if they don't want to lose sight of the front lines of the effort to eliminate hunger in Licking County.


So now other counties in Ohio will get to test their collaborative vision against  a model of discussion and visioning and action plans. I'm not here to lay out the full sense of the planning outlines we've begun (the FPN board will be on that shortly), but I do want to report in this space a few things.


First, the Christian congregations of our area are both working hard, and are very interested in learning from each other how to work smarter. None of us thinks we have this whole "following Jesus" deal figured out perfectly, and if we hear about approaches that are both more faithful, and more effective, we're open to that.


"Choice pantries" are one part of this process; as I've mentioned here before, most of us hadn't considered the assumptions about the working poor and hungry people that were implicit in standard-model pantry approaches. Here's your bag, take what we give you: that model is quietly but clearly sending messages of "you should feel lucky you're getting this, so deal with it," along with our own assumptions that there's a certain grabbiness to poverty that means we don't dare open the shelves to clients.


In fact, while there's always someone who pushes the rules (ain't there always, in anything?), that's not what choice pantry folks see. There's actually more communication, more understanding, and even more appreciation, in both directions.


And we're thinking about our hours. Can we push ourselves to look at being open when people can get there? The reality is that most clients of food pantries are working, often two jobs, so respecting their time looks different when we remember that. No one meant to say that food pantry clients are just sitting home all day, but only being open 10 am to Noon on weekdays does imply that's what we assume.


The second general learning the hunger forums kept coming back to is the need to increase community awareness about what being working poor looks like, and why the problem of hunger is so quietly persistent, even in an era of EBT cards for Food Stamps (the stamps are gone). That's why realizing our guests, our visitors are almost without exception *working* people is so important.


I went out shortly before midnight as May 1 started to turn, just to see something for myself. It's often noted that if folks have used up their EBT cards earlier in the month, then a) food pantries tend to be busier at the end of the month, and b) folks will go to 24 hour groceries as the new date dawns, and "the card" is electronically recharged. In fact, I dashed around to four between 11:45 pm and 12:30 am, and met a number of people doing just that.


One was a mom, with two adolescents in tow; I introduced myself and explained my interest, and she introduced me to her two very polite, if baffled children. She explained they'd "almost made it through the month!" but needed lunch food for packing school lunches. And that's exactly what was in her cart as she hovered by check-out, waiting for midnight, and to get her kids home for sleep and school the next day.


"It's tough out there for lots of people, but we're making it. It's going to get better. This helps us get there." Then she checked her lunch supplies through the register. It was 12:05 am.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor; he will worship with the "Sacred Walk 5K" starting tomorrow at 9:00 am from the Powwow grounds at the Great Circle Earthworks. Share your tales of hunger and being fed with him at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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