Last night Bill Weller talked with us about issues of hunger and poverty–which are, of course, interrelated. Hunger is a symptom of poverty, usually. Sometimes it’s the only symptom, sometimes there are others (homelessness, lack of clean water, limited access to education, etc).
Scripture is pretty clear that it is our task as the people of God to care for people in distress, to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, to give bread to the hungry and water to the thirsty. The question is: how do we do it?
One of the most obvious ways is through direct assistance–we give food to people, or we support a food pantry or soup kitchen or other program that gives food to people. This is good and important and meets immediate needs. It doesn’t solve the problem of how come people are hungry, though.
Another way is through advocacy–we can lobby our government to stop allowing people to fall through the cracks, we can continue fishing people out of the river even as we go upstream and ask why they’re falling into the river in the first place. One action by a government can do more to help end poverty and hunger than thousands of meals given away. Access to education, childcare, job training, food assistance, affordable housing, etc can mean the difference between hunger and having enough.
A third way is through raising awareness–Bill talked about his students hosting a Hunger Banquet, for instance. In this awareness raising event, people experience the disparity between the poorest of the world (50% of the world population) and the 15% into which most of us fall. Knowing and seeing this firsthand is a great way to jumpstart our compassion and our willingness to act. Reminding people that 1 in 4 families in this country is food insecure, and even more than that when we start talking about the global south, while it may be depressing is still important. As long as we are able to close our eyes to the problem, no solution will appear.
We talked quite a bit as well about what to do when food aid is not effective–for instance, when we send American grown (and government subsidized!) grain to a village where people are hungry, we often undercut the market for local food, putting local farmers out of business. Often we give away food at first, but then start charging for it later–after local producers have gone under and the population relies on food assistance. How can we better use our dollars and sense to ensure that communities are able to feed themselves?
For more information, a few resources Bill talked about are: