It’s no secret that I support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Last year, I raised money for them by running the Pittsburgh Marathon Half, and I was also able to donate produce directly this year, due to an abundance of tomatoes in our garden.
So last week, when I saw that one of the food pantries near my office on the North Side had virtually empty shelves, with Thanksgiving approaching, I asked them the best way to help and ended up buying something on their Amazon wish list and making a small monetary donation. It wasn’t much, but it will buy something for someone. I don’t say this to brag – many people support good causes with their time and money. But just after this happened, I found myself in two separate conversations where the following sentence was spoken:
I don’t support food pantries because too many people don’t really deserve help.
I hear many variations of this when I tell people about my support of food pantries and hunger relief. Lots of talk about fraud and abuse. The anecdotes people present about how they saw someone use an EBT card at the grocery store while wearing UGG boots and having their nails done. Talk about laziness and people who would rather take a handout than work. People up in arms about spending any government money to feed its people.
The truth is, that all of the myths about SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – what we call Food Stamps), have been shown to be just that – myths. Fraud accounts for less than 1% of benefits given out in SNAP, which is far less than Medicare or Medicaid. Most recipients of SNAP are children and the elderly. The average monthly benefit for a family of four ends up averaging $1.50 per meal per person. Have you tried to feed yourself on $4.50 a day? There are so many logical and statistical reasons why SNAP is a vital program for our communities.
But food pantries act as supplements for SNAP, because SNAP is not enough. So places like the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank step in and provide much needed food and services for the hungry.
But I want to go back to the sentence I hear the most, the one I’ve been chewing on in my brain for days. That too many people really don’t deserve help. It’s shocking to me that any one of us feels we are in the position to judge what someone else deserves, particularly when it comes to whether or not someone eats. Eating is a basic human need – drinking water and breathing air are the only more pressing needs.
Because I am a Christian, I believe that I don’t actually deserve anything I have. It’s all been given to me by the grace of God. And for everyone, what is it that you have done in your life that makes you deserve to eat? You didn’t choose the family you were born into – whether or not that family was above or below the poverty line.
Life is too complex and people’s circumstances too varied for us to make judgements when we are deciding who should receive benefits or food from pantries. The people that run these food pantries are making the best determinations they can as to who can receive assistance with the limited funds that they have. I trust them to do this; I don’t need to get involved. When you donate a toy at Christmas to a Toys for Tots drive, do you ask the Marines what their screening criteria are for what child deserves a toy and what child doesn’t? I doubt it. When you donate to a children’s hospital, do you ask questions about whether or not that child or their parents deserve care? Nope.
When people throw their anecdotal evidence at me about seeing someone in the grocery store in fancy clothes using an EBT card, I always ask them – how do you know where that person got those boots and how? Perhaps they bought them five years ago, before a family member lost a job or had medical bills or a mortgage that needed to be paid? Maybe they were a gift. Maybe they were a splurge.
What happened to compassion for the sake of compassion, without strings attached? Is it really such a terrible thing if someone gets a box of stuffing and a can of green beans that might have been able to afford to pay for it on their own?
For me it comes down to this. “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35). I’ve got news for you, Christians. It doesn’t say “For I was hungry, and you determined I was unworthy of something to eat because I made a decision you disagreed with.” (Let it be noted there are about 30 other Biblical passages supporting feeding the hungry, lest you think I took this out of context. You’ve got zero excuses, Christians. None.)
If you aren’t a Christian, I think the same applies. I would like to meet someone who has made no poor decisions in the entirety of their life. Or someone who has never had something unexpected happen that they weren’t prepared for. I’d like to think that if my circumstances were different, someone would feed me when I was hungry instead of interrogating and shaming me.
Since we’re nearing the holidays, you’ll see food drives out and about. In our area, the Fall FoodShare is going on at Giant Eagle stores. The KDKA Turkey Fund has started. Consider when you’re at the checkout and surveying all of the groceries you are purchasing for your family if you could purchase a few more, for someone else’s family.
Not because they deserve it. But because there are people who are hungry. And they need to eat. It’s as simple as that.