Do meetings solve problems of hunger?

I think that anyone who has witnessed the birth of a baby will agree that it is a sacred moment. The child arrives, often after a period of intense work by the mother. The cord is cut. Soon the baby is being fed. It is a sacred and important bond. It is not vastly different when a child comes into a family through adoption. When we received our daughter, within minutes of first holding her, we received instructions about what and how she was fed. We took a small supply of formula with us and our first stop with that new baby was at a store where additional supplies of formula could be purchased. I learned about getting the formula mixed properly, about heating it to the right temperature, about holding the bottle so that she could eat conveniently, about how to gently pat her so that she could burp when excess air was sucked into her system. I learned to force myself to wake up to change and feed her in the middle of the night. I learned to put her needs first, denying my desire for sleep and making sure that she was fed and properly cared for.

It is the sacred job of parents to feed their children. In every culture, in every place around the world, providing for families is a critical task of parents and grandparents.

Because of that sacred duty, we are alarmed and seek to intervene whenever we see hungry children. News stories, like the ones coming out of the California home of David and Louis Turpin, turn our stomachs and make us ask, “How could parents do this to their own children?” How could anyone do this to any child?

We are willing to give to causes that feed hungry children. Se send monies to charities. We volunteer at soup kitchens, we stuff food into backpacks for children to take home from school. We create school feeding programs. When children come to school hungry it is the first instinct of their dedicated teachers to feed them.

We don’t seem to notice that we are interrupting a sacred cycle. When we get between parents and children in the process of feeding, we deny the first basic responsibility of parents. When we feed children instead of enabling the parents to assume this responsibility, we become involved in a multiple-generational cycle that interrupts a sacred bond.

Yesterday a group of us were invited to yet another meeting in our community addressing the problems of hunger in our community. We began by watching brightly colored slides projected on a huge screen mapping hunger in our community. The addresses of recipients of food from the Feeding South Dakota food bank were overlaid on a map of the city. Other demographics were also displayed. The locations of grocery stores and food distribution places were projected on the screens. The pictures were the result of over a year’s work of interviewing people, collecting data from emergency food providers and the employment of sophisticated computer modeling software.

Then we were divided into groups, based on the geography of our community, and asked to come up with solutions to the problems. We were urged to think creatively, but given little time for actual thinking. Ideas began to arise from the group. “What about extended hours for the food bank?” “What about new locations for distribution of commodities?” “What about using food trucks to deliver prepared meals to hungry people in different locations?” What about using more schools as points of distribution?”

I listened, but I failed to hear any new ideas. No one was suggesting anything different from obtaining food from a variety of sources and giving it to hungry people. We just talked about different ways to distribute food.

There was little talk of community gardens to teach people how to grow their own food. There was no talk of revising community statutes to allow growing food, such as chickens for eggs or consumption. There was no talk about creating neighborhood greenhouses that could produce food year round. There was no talk about community kitchens in neighborhoods where hungry people don’t have access to cooking facilities. There was no talk about basic living skills classes that teach nutrition, efficient shopping, low-energy food preparation, or other subjects.

I didn’t hear any truly new ideas in the entire session.

And I noticed that there were no children present. There were no people who appeared to be hungry present. There were very few people of color present. The location was a place where one would have to have a car to attend. No city bus routes run by the place. The parking lot is huge. It is miles away from the places where homeless people hang out in our town. It was a long way from any low cost housing.

We sat there in the room talking about what we were going to do for other people without considering what we might do with them and without any knowledge of what they wanted.

We are practiced in the skill of interrupting the sacred bond between parents and children. We are very practiced in saying, “You can’t feed your child? Then let us do it for you.”

I suspect that very few, if any, in the room were willing to see the meeting as part of the problem. We were there to be part of the solution.

I don’t often walk out of meetings before they are finished, but I couldn’t take that meeting. After trying to suggest some new ideas and “out of the box” thinking, I realized how unwelcome those ideas were. Mind you, all I did was to talk about the experience of South Park United Church of Christ, who started a modest community gardening project in 2017. I was told, bluntly, that a community garden isn’t a solution because it doesn’t feed people in the winter. It is, of course, true that if one wants to be fed by a garden in the winter one has to learn the skills of food preservation. But I doubt if the person responding to my comments is a gardener or knows how to can tomatoes or make pickles. When the meeting paused for a break, I went back to my other duties.

As we go forward, I seem to have less patience and less time for perpetuating the things we are already doing. I’ll still donate to food pantries. I’ll still volunteer at the mission. But I intend to invest more of my time in working with people to give them the skills and opportunities to feed their own children. It is a sacred responsibility.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!