My heart was broken for them. I arrived at the Community Center to help serve food at a feeding program for children. Through a USDA grant and the schools, children have an opportunity to receive a free lunch, Mondays through Thursdays, for most of the summer. (This was the last week of this program.)
Only a few days earlier, we discovered that some residents were coming together to provide lunches on Fridays, too. They knew that for many children, it could be the only meal they would get that day.
But when I showed up, there were 7 children waiting outside of the center. They had walked up on their own (the oldest was 11) from a nearby neighborhood. The doors to the center were locked, and there was no sign. I made a phone call, and learned that someone had made a decision to not offer it that day, without notice or explanation.
When I explained to them that there would be no lunch, the oldest said, “OK, we’ll go home now.” I expected, and even wanted him to be mad, but he wasn’t. They were on their way. I wondered if I should have bought them food from somewhere — hot dogs from a local restaurant, or even produce from an adjacent farmer’s market.
Would they have taken my food? Probably. But what would their family’s think about them getting food from a stranger? And would the locals accuse me of trying to be a “great white hope”?
Paralyzed with doubt, I watched them walk away. I now wish I could go back to that moment. Surely something would have been better than nothing.
Child malnutrition and under-nutrition is a major concern worldwide today. An analysis led by Professor Majid Ezzati (School of Public Health, Imperial College London) concluded that it is unlikely that developing countries will meet the goal the UN set in 1990 to halve child hunger rates.
In Allendale, hungry children look different from the ones on TV who live in slums with a scarcity of clothes and bloated stomachs. Hungry children in Allendale look like the football player that complains of a headache on Monday, and a couple of quick questions reveals that he hasn’t eaten in over 24 hours. Hungry children look like the child at summer camp who has been ornery all morning, and then your figure out that she hasn’t eaten since yesterday’s free lunch of a sandwich, milk, fruit, and chips. Hungry children look like the ones that can’t focus in school, because in the back of their minds they are wondering when their next full meal will be outside of school lunch.
We have to do something for these kids, right? We can’t just let them go hungry. I’m thankful for the residents and leaders who are working to give these children something.
Productivity Battles Poverty
But we have to think beyond the immediate need. If we settle for the solution of hand-outs, the need will be never-ending.
Professor Ezzati gives his conclusions:
“There is evidence that child nutrition is best improved through equitable economic growth, investment in policies that help smallholder farmers and increase agricultural productivity, and primary care and food programs targeted at the poor.”
In other words, instead of just fighting poverty, we need to increase productivity.
Along these lines, here are more excerpts from Toxic Charity, which I finished up a couple of weeks ago. Author Robert Lupton puts a high emphasis on community development — not big programs, not unceasing hand-outs, and (surprising to me) not just collaboration. As you can see, development is built around sustained, life-giving relationships.
“A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.”
“What works in easing urban pathologies — one person, one family, one family, one neighborhood at a time.”
“What is required to transform a deteriorating neighborhood is geographically focused vision with measurable goals over extended time.”
Lupton warns that community development is complex, relationally centered, and painfully slow. But it lasts.
Do we still need programs to meet immediate needs? Sure. But instead of a quick donation, I also need to give my time, and my heart, to others on a personal level. As I wrote in Poverty Robs You, “And to give them a helping hand probably means our hands have to get dirty.”
And one final quote from Rick Warren: “Whenever you give your time, you are making a sacrifice, and sacrifice is the essence of love.”