A Parable of the Evolution of Today’s Food Pantries
In the beginning..
Once upon a time there was a river of hunger in which many were drowning. Whenever those on shore would see one of these struggling people, they would pluck them out of the river and provide them with emergency food assistance. Soon, because of the large number of people being rescued from the river, a supplemental emergency food assistance system was developed in the community and food pantries were established, and rapidly increased in number. Among these were churches whose well-intentioned ministers recruited volunteers to serve at the pantries, and some even to move and live in the needy community. The community grew and settled into the business of delivering emergency food assistance.
Beyond handing out food
One day, someone wondered why there were still so many people in the river of hunger, many of them repeats, and decided to go against the current to see what was causing them to fall into the river in the first place and then to fall back into the river again after being rescued. Was there a way to prevent this unusual occurrence, thereby reducing hunger and the associated costs to individuals, families, communities, and society? By focusing on what can be done to keep people from falling again and again, food pantries must move beyond just handing out food to “missional” approach, since many of the food insecure populations live in preventable circumstances. It’s time to move from merely transactional to relational.
Jesus taught us to find out the real needs of people, which means investing time in those people. In His conversation with an untrusting person at a well, Jesus pointed the Samaritan woman to what she really needed and how she could get it. He met her at her point of need. Although she came to the well to quench her thirst, she learned of the Living Water, the only thing that would truly quench her thirst.
Similarly, at food pantries, most people come to receive free bags of food. Many us have been involved in just giving people what they feel they need (food) rather than trying to uncover their underlying real need of education, training, healthy living or an encounter with God.
If we want to rescue people, it is imperative that we become missional workers by serving people with God’s perspective. We can help many people avoid falling into the River of Hunger over and over again by helping them beyond a bag of food. By rethinking the process of food distribution we can actually shorten the line.