Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Faith Works 5-5

Faith Works 5-5-12

Jeff Gill


Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, or at least a can of beans



After two weeks of talking about fasting, you had to figure I'd get around to hunger: and you'd be right.


(Oh, and if you're reading this before noon on Saturday, come join me at the Great Circle off Rt. 79 in Heath for a program this morning on the Ancient Ohio Trail, and say hello!)


Back to the everyday struggles of today's life, you may have a food pantry in your congregation's building. Licking County is blessed to have a large number of pantries, over 30, located all across our wide geographic reach. In 1981, folks started coordinating their care and their resources, and created the Licking County Food Pantry Network (see www.foodpantrynetwork.net for more info).


The LCFPN does Operation Feed, and is helped by groups like Elves in Action, the Granville Turkey Trot, and a number of Scout-led food drives. They also partner with the Columbus area Mid-Ohio Food Bank, and the Mid-Ohio team has been impressed with the scope and co-ordination of what goes on here in Licking County, so they wanted to use us as a testing zone for a model to start community conversations around hunger and helping.


One thing we all know: there's need, and it isn't getting smaller. We also know that the total amount of food we're distributing is increasing, so the obvious question is: do we need to do something differently? How are we using the resources we have, and if we need more, it's not just a question of "more" or even Chuck Moore (rimshot), but where do we need what, exactly?


Plus the ongoing challenge of public education about hunger.


So there've been a series of meetings, largely with those already working at various church & agency food and feeding programs, from the Salvation Army hot lunches on E. Main St. in Newark to regular pantry operations in places like Croton & Utica. We've been meeting at Second Presbyterian in downtown Newark at 11:30 am for a two hour process that includes lunch (we're fighting hunger on many fronts . . .), and the last session is next week, Wed. May 9th. You are still invited, whether you've been to some or none of our three earlier ventures.


One thing we've talked about around our tables, comparing notes and thinking through challenges: many who are coming, at least these days, have never been to a food pantry before. And quite a few come once, and aren't seen again.


There's a bit of a stereotype that people who come to a food pantry are all "frequent flyers," long-standing regulars. And the truth is, those are the folks you remember if you work at them, for obvious reasons – they're coming back. But that's not all, or even most of who we are feeding. Did you know that? How does that make you think differently about food pantries?


And another part of the new model these days is old news to some, but a startling thought to others. They're called "choice pantries," versus what Chuck calls "standard" (or I might call "stereotypical") pantries. The old idea was that you came, checked in, and got handed a bag with three days worth of food for whatever your family size was. If the bag had pasta, black eyed peas, and a canned ham, well, you're hungry, aren't you? No one said take it or leave it, but . . .


A choice pantry still checks you in, and you get a bag, but you go among the shelves yourself and you . . . choose. Hence, the "choice pantry" model. For some, a can of black eyed peas is a joy and a reminder of better days and something that gets eaten up right quick; for others, it's a "what's that?" and a shelf-sitter. Canned pumpkin, chickpeas, a jar of alfredo: just think about it for yourself. How would you use a random batch of items to feed your particular family?


Sometimes, stuff runs low or runs out, and people (clients, customers, guests, whatever) have to make do. But the choice model makes us reflect on some of our assumptions about who is hungry, why they're hungry, and what they should/must/will do to get by. And for every pantry that's made the shift, there's been a sheepish sort of recognition when, over and over again – it works. It works well. People understand limitations, but a simple, humane amount of respect and autonomy changes the whole atmosphere, to everyone's benefit.


There's more to learn. Come join us this Wednesday if you can, and tell your story.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's going to be at Second Pres this Wednesday. Tell him about your pantry experience at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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