Working to help the hungry: thoughts public and private

I live in Washington, D.C., and I care deeply about my city. In particular, I hate when it becomes an eponym for political misdeeds or a focus of scorn. Remember: the 600,000-plus people of the District of Columbia don’t even get voting representation in Congress. And the Congress reserves for itself the power of our purse. And one part of one party has made a hostage of the budget, and with it he livelihoods of many friends and neighbors in the greater Washington metropolis and worldwide.

Despite the jokes of the lazy civil servant, many of these workers are not particularly well-paid (even in the Congress staff itself) and furlough days have taken a bite. How long will it be when some of these same civil servants will need food assistance, even as the programs are on ice? That members of military qualify for SNAP (food stamps) is itself a shame, lest anyone forget.

Baked into the conflict is what the proper role of government should be, and even if the current impasse is quickly resolved, it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome when that one part of one party is dedicated no less to anti-government than anything else. Which makes me question the natural churchly impulse to private, charitable solutions to social harms, like hunger. Isn’t that just playing into an anti-government script? Especially since churches can barely keep their doors open. The same can be said of many secular non-profits. There’s just not enough labor, leadership and plain old money to restore public needs to charity.

But there’s also the difference between a regularly-operating government and a crisis. Today we have a crisis and so today we have a responsibility to give more to charities that pick up where government initiatives fail. (Our task tomorrow is to push the vandals out of office.)

OK: let’s look at a couple of good ideas that other places could emulate.

  1. The DC Food Finder a “project of Healthy Affordable Food For All” maps meal programs, food distribution sites, mutual aid, market alternatives and the like.
  2. One of the market alternatives is the Healthy Corners program, which supplies produce to corner markets in poorer parts of the District. See the video, too.
  3. SHARE DC (SHARE Food Network) provides set packages of low-cost groceries; participants subdivide and package the food. It’s managed by Catholic Charities and operated through neighborhood churches.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 44, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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