Hunger Takes No Holidays
By Jeanette Mott Oxford on December 20, 2012
© St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Many Missouri families have a tradition of giving to others during the holiday season by volunteering at a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other feeding program. Even more give food or a cash donation to such agencies. Often in these experiences people find themselves counting their own blessings in a profound new way because of what they learn about the challenges faced by many of their neighbors.
“Charity” is often the word we use to describe these acts of caring, and charity has its origin in the word for love in multiple languages. Hungry people in our community certainly need love to come their way.
But charity is not the only way to show our love to those who are less fortunate. It would be impossible for charity alone to solve hunger and other suffering in this country that is caused by poverty. Most food pantries distribute emergency food aid in an amount sufficient for just a few days, and if a change does not occur in the client’s life circumstances, emergency assistance will be needed again before long, at least by the next month.
Many people learn through volunteering for these charitable organizations how essential governmental programs such as SNAP (food stamps), the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Meals on Wheels for seniors and people with disabilities are in reducing hunger. Most food pantry directors readily admit that their task would be made entirely impossible if these programs were cut.
Unfortunately, federal nutrition programs are currently at risk of being cut by billions of dollars. The consequences would be dire, taking meals directly out of the mouths of our most vulnerable populations — children, low wage-earners, the elderly, and the homeless. With almost one in five Missourians struggling to put food on the table, we simply cannot afford — morally or economically — to make any cuts to the food stamp and other nutrition programs.
Charity alone cannot come close to meeting the hunger needs in our neighborhoods. According to David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization urging our nation’s leaders to end hunger at home and abroad, if cuts proposed in 2012 for federal nutrition programs occur, “each of the 335,000 religious congregations in the United States — big or small — would have to spend at least $50,000 annually to fill the gap.” Americans oppose cuts to SNAP, found a recent poll by the Food Research and Action Center, and they believe government should — and must — do more to address hunger.
Charity offers temporary and limited amounts of help with basic human needs like food, clothing, housing, and utilities. Justice-making involves advocating for policy changes that dismantle oppressions like racism and sexism, remove barriers to employment, furnish an effective safety net, and create permanent access to basic human needs such as affordable housing and food.
This holiday season, let us give generously, but let us also work with advocacy organizations that call for an end to the root causes of poverty and hunger. Charity and justice-making are like the two wings of a bird; it takes both for our society to truly soar.
Jeanette Mott Oxford is executive director of Missouri Association for Social Welfare and a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives.