Monday, November 13, 2023

SNAP, Pantries, and Christian Nations

Just about every Wednesday, a genial cadre of local Buddhists arrive at my Presbyterian church.  

They arrive in a van, laden with seven to eight hundred of pounds of food, which their temple has purchased to help support the efforts of our bustling Little Free Pantry.  Volunteers from the church join together with the nuns, hefting forty pound bags of carrots and onions.  Crates of potatoes and apples, pallets of canned soups and sauces.

All of it will flow through the Pantry over the course of a week, as folks in the community who need food support pull into our gravel parking lot.  It will join the generous donations given by members of the church, and by the good decent folks out in our little town.

When church folk started our Little Free Pantry...think a Little Free Library, only for nonperishable food...we'd not known what to expect.  We'd anticipated it to be a modest supplement to the nonprofit Food Bank that already exists in our community, just across the street, hosted by our Methodist neighbors.  It was simply something to handle the off-hours when those food bank shelves weren't available.

For a while, that was precisely what it was.

But debt-addicted America printed trillions of new dollars into the economy during the pandemic, which had the surprising effect of triggering inflation.  Golly, who coulda seen that coming?  And then, with costs rising ahead of wages, we cut back on the SNAP benefits that had been a lifeline for families during the pandemic.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program feeds tens of millions in our country, and after it was expanded during COVID, that retraction had a notable impact here in the trenches of food provision.  

Sure, the pandemic was over, but inflation had changed the entire economic dynamic, and millions suddenly found that affording little luxuries like housing, transportation, and food had become unmanageable.

Demand soared.  Suddenly, that cute little roofed box, with its equally cute Little Free Produce stand?  They weren't just out on the margins.  Every few minutes, another person stopping by, the flow increasing when the working day came close to an end.  When I arrive in the morning on Sundays, people are often waiting patiently for it to be restocked.  Our hard-working volunteers fill it, and fill it, and fill it.  Over the course of this year, we're on track to having moved thirty thousand pounds of food through the pantry.

Nearly thirty thousand pounds.

Across the way at the local food bank, demand is up fifty percent.

This is the reality.  This is what's happening on the ground.  Up in the cold airless aether of ideological
blather, the conversations in the House of Representatives have turned to cutting SNAP further.  It's "bloated and broken," or so say those who claim to want to offer a "hand up, not a hand out."

Now, I don't have a problem with making programs more efficient.  I don't doubt there are layers of bureaucracy that could be trimmed away.  It's a food program, not a jobs program.  So do that, sure.  But anything that results in less food for the hungry, or that creates more bureaucratic processes, procedures, and protocols for people in need to negotiate?  That's not the kind of country a free and decent folk would want to live in.  

And I don't have any issue with empowering people to be self-supporting.  But the people who need food are working people.  They need those calories so they can work to support themselves.  Having food is a hand up.  Offering people platitudes instead of plates of food only makes sense if you're the sort of fool who thinks you can live by eating ideology.  It's indecent.

On a fundamental level, that's also not Christian, bruh.  It ain't Buddhist, neither, but being that I'm a pastor and Jesus is my Lord and Savior, I can only speak with authority about the former.  

Seriously.  There's a deep irony that the same folks who wrap themselves in flag and cross and declare that America must be a Christian nation?  They're the folks who want America to do exactly the opposite thing that Christians are commanded to do.

We feed people.  Because Jesus. Told. Us. To.  This isn't complicated.  He ain't your Lord and Savior if you don't do what he tells you to do.

Lord have mercy, have these folk even read their Bibles?