I Visited a Food Bank. I Loved it. I Hated It.


Hunger in America is rampant. Why the Hell Do We Allow This?


This past weekend, I invested some time with our local foodbank. It is in every sense a model operation, rightly cited as one of the best in America. The talented people who work there are dedicated beyond measure. The operation is a model of efficiency and effectiveness. They are both efficient and humane. (Manna Food Bank, https://www.mannafoodbank.org)

They have over 200 partner organizations. Manna serves thousands of meals a day in over a dozen counties, some of which are very remote and hard to reach. The food they provide is fresh and healthy. Waste of anything is at near zero levels. More than 94% of every dollar goes directly to food distribution. It is a terrific organization that I am glad to support financially and with my time.

So, what’s not to like? The fact that we need these organizations, thousands of them, all over the country, is not to like. In our part of the state, 1 in 4 children are food insecure. 1 in 5 adults share that status. In some locales, it’s as high as 8 of every 10 children.

Food insecurity means people go to bed not knowing from where or even if a meal will be available tomorrow. One staffer shared with me a phone call she received from a rural child of 11 a few days ago. “I heard about your program. What can I do to get some food? We’re hungry.” Carry that around in your head for a while.

That we have such a widespread problem with this in 21stcentury America should enrage us all. It’s a persistent problem that gets lost in the public debate over “more important” issues.

It’s not as though no progress has been made. Things are better in some places than when Edward R. Murrow shook the nation’s conscience with Harvest of Shame  in 1960. If you have not seen it, watch it today. It is a searing indictment of our shortcomings as a society (https://billmoyers.com/2013/07/19/watch-edward-r-murrows-harvest-of-shame/).

Many of the antipoverty programs began under Lyndon Johnson have also made many lives better. But the basic problem continues, at profoundly deep and widespread levels. That is largely because you and I find that acceptable. Organizations like food banks are like fingers in the leaking dam. They are essential. They do lifesaving work that needs to be today, every day. But they can only treat the symptoms. Getting at root causes is a different fight. That we have not taken it as such is a national shame.

Like all issues related to poverty, hunger is a devilishly complex problem. If you think just giving everyone food or money solves it, you will be disappointed. If you think “the poor will always be with us” or that people are just lazy and so deserve this status, you are both wrong and immoral.

I have worked in food programs before. Yes, one sees the addicted, the mentally ill, and other problems. But you also see families. You see people who cannot imagine how this happened to them. You come to realize this could be any of us, given some bad breaks.

Breaking the cycle of hunger requires innovation, persistence, and commitment. It requires engagement at every level of government, from town council to the White House. This only gets better if we ask our officials and government about it at every opportunity. Something along the following lines, whenever the chance presents itself.

We have hungry children and adults all around us. You can’t solve it, but you can make a difference. What are you doing at your level of government? Who are you working with at other levels of government to end this? Does this make the cut for your priorities as a leader? What in your actions says this is a practical and moral priority?

Every time you sit down for a meal, think for a moment about those who could not imagine doing what you are about to do, so easily and regularly. Uncomfortable yet? Good. Go out there and get involved in building solutions and holding government accountable. If we won’t take this on, what does it say about us as a nation? We can be better than this.

     Bill Clontz

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