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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is Enough Really Enough?

by Tom Pappas

I shopped for our church’s pantry food drive last week. Laurel and I picked up two paper grocery sacks with a list stapled to it.  On some of the items (potato flakes, syrup, bar soap) I included the minimum. On other Items (canned tuna, canned vegetables, soup-not creamed) I bought extra. While I shopped I put pantry goods in the front of the cart and things for our use toward the back. Hopefully for the right reasons (Jesus said to) I felt pleased with helping families suffering hard times.

With the pantry list and our personal list completed I searched for the shortest check-out line. I would pay twice to keep a record.  An ineffable sense of sadness, that I am still having trouble understanding, came over me as I looked at and compared the pantry items with what would stay in my kitchen.

Cans and boxes of really nice food would wait in my trunk to be taken to the chancel Sunday. The trunk would be disaster for what we would keep for ourselves. Among other things, fresh artichokes and asparagus were on the belt to be scanned. Do the poor get to know how awesome these can be? I’m guessing not.

Really nice canned and boxed food is perfect when the cupboard is bare. But I’ve become accustomed to a culinary “abundant life”.  Most of our kitchen waste goes to compost, not landfill or recycling. Since I’m not giving up fresh vegetables until they pry them out of my garden-gloved fingers, I need to ponder how to make God’s gifts available to those whose circumstances make it impossible or hard.

Even with a sore knee I am called to crawl around in my vegetable beds to individually plant leeks and eradicate the yellow wood sorrel (What was God thinking?). Yet I am simultaneously called to share. I need the community of faith to help me with this one. Any ideas? Know that I’m thinking and praying hard on this one.


  1. Tom - I filled the same paper sacks, possibly in the same store.

    Like yours, it was easy to distinguish between the items in my cart headed for my kitchen cabinet and that which was headed to the church food pantry. It made me feel guilty for being able to provide for my family, and others, but not doing so equally. I'm not sure what kept me from doing so, really. I imagine I could afford to.

    I was trying to be a good citizen, buying items the food pantry said they need. It just felt like an act of futility. I understand that people that are hungry, but I supposed that a cart full, a trunk full, a semi load of tuna cans would never reduce the circumstances that caused the hunger. I'll be back to do the same thing again, and perhaps not as soon as I should.

    I felt like my 2lb bag of macaroni was doing nothing more than kicking a can further down the road - putting a temporary damper on a bigger need that will never go away.

    I'm not an expert on the sociography of need, nutrition, ethics, farming, or anything else remotely related to this topic. I'm just a guy that has been blessed in my life and have never really been hungry. I never want my children to experience that either. Ultimately, I suppose this is what compels me to buy - a fear that it would not take much of a financial misstep or an accident of some sort and it could be me trying to provide for my family's nutritional needs.

    If that scenario played out in my life and I was feeding my daughters macaroni and canned tuna on a regular basis, I would no doubt be thankful for the sustenance. However, I wonder if I would - with my belly temporarily full of rice - feel inspired to change my situation? I wonder if I would be resentful at my reliance upon strangers to pick out my food?

    I don't know. Having never been in the situation I don't feel that I've earned the right to offer a guess at a better solution than food banks, though I'm thinking there have to be people out there who have thought of better solutions.

    I'm just pleased to hear that I am not alone when I ponder these things. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to the people who dedicate their time and talent to making a difference - one kicked can at a time.

  2. I've been the position of not having enough money for food. I'm grateful to my neighbors for putting out their extra veggies for free. I'm grateful to have a community kitchen. It's humbling, embarrassing, and not a circumstance that led me to remain reliant.
    In our communities, we are asked to grow a little extra in our gardens, in our CSA's. These are donated to our local pantries and put out by the roadsides, and shared in church. We are asked to donate the extra as we can, to feed our neighbors.
    This is a difficult financial time for many. For those that can help, please do share. Even the tuna and pasta help fill the bellies.
    Remember that most people are just one paycheck away from being homeless.