Saturday, August 15, 2009

Food Not Bombs Again

If you have read much of this blog then you know that I participate fairly regularly in a cool project called Food Not Bombs. For those of you who don’t know, it is the simply elegant process of folks with the resources and the initiative bringing food to those who would like a meal. FNB meets on Sunday afternoons at 1:00 at the top of Finley Park in downtown Columbia, SC. FNB is a volunteer organization whose soul purpose is to serve others. It is a simple way to help the poor and hungry.

Many of the people who serve at FNB gather leftover food from bakeries and grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste. Anyone who wants to serve may serve. Anyone who wants to eat may eat. I know that I have recorded this on my blog before, but there is a small sign that you see as you walk up to the serving line. It is a quote from (Republican) President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Dwight D. Eisenhower - The Chance for Peace April 16, 1953

FNB is a non-partisan, inclusive group; both those who serve and those who are served come from all walks of life. Some of those who come for food are doubtless homeless. Some come straight from church wearing coats and ties and pretty dresses. Some parents come with their children. There are old ones who have a hard time walking. One gentleman, a regular when his health permits, uses a walker. When he first introduced himself to me he tagged his name with, “grandson of a slave.”

Folks who serve often bring in something that is special to them. One couple almost always brings in something with venison, because the man is a hunter. Several bring vegetarian dishes because they don’t eat meat themselves. There is fresh fruit, cheese, salads, sandwiches, pastries, greens, potato salad, spaghetti, fried chicken, mac and cheese. It feels good to be there. Really good.

So it bothered me when I read this little rant in the Free Times. It was a response to an earlier article about a man and his wife who didn’t feel safe visiting Finley Park because of the large number of homeless people who spend time there.

… The park has become unsafe because of these vagrants. To make matters there worse it was recently brought to light that some charity group is lobbying to keep the upper parking lot open because it is where they provide free meals to these bums. Are you kidding me? It’s no wonder there are so many homeless people in the park. These bleeding heart liberals are FEEDING THEM!

Rather than rant back, I can only respond benignly… try serving sometime. Try coming out on a Sunday afternoon and helping to feed people who need a meal. There are few finer feelings than helping out in this small way.

A man came through the line last Sunday. He is one of the folks I have seen a lot this summer. He is always thankful for the food, even if he doesn’t take what I have to offer. He God-Blesses me every Sunday. He had obviously read the piece in Free Times because he said, “You know you are feeding bums, right? Well God Bless you for feeding us bums.” It broke my heart. I wished that the person who wrote that piece in the paper could have looked into his watery eyes when he spoke those self-deprecating words.

I couldn’t help thinking of the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to celebrate our independence.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I wonder if the writer of the Free Times piece believes these patriotic words. Are we not called by these moving words to give assistance and comfort?

Jesus himself made it a special point to reach out to those considered the lowest in society including poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors. In his day, these were the most maligned. Didn’t he ask the rich man to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor?

In the Old Testament, which Christians share with Muslims and Jews, it says in Proverbs, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

As far as I know, in all religions and belief systems it says that we lift ourselves up by helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Aside from religious doctrine or patriotic words, there is a simple calling of the heart for many people to share, to do what we can to ease suffering.

I doubt the writer of the Free Times piece will ever know the wonderful feeling of giving in this way. It is great to give to a church or charitable organization. Isn’t there a special feeling associated with dropping money into the red bucket of a Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas? Isn’t that what we want our children to learn? If you think that feels good, try spooning out food onto someone’s plate. So, to the writer of the Free Times piece and to those who feel the same. Try it, you may like it.

Jesus commanded, "Love your neighbor." When asked to define "neighbor," Jesus expanded the traditional meaning of the word--defining our neighbor as anyone who is in need, including social outcasts: "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:13)

Jesus must have been a bleeding heart liberal. That’s not such bad company.

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