Long ago as a Christian teen and young adult, I spent a lot of time volunteering for hunger ministries. A ministry is distinct from a charity, in that salvation and spreading the gospel are the real goals, even while charity is a means. These are “fishers of men” as described in the Gospels. The group I volunteered with was full of earnest young white evangelicals who’d moved into a poor black and latinx neighborhood to do good deeds. Our savior complex was our passion.
It was in many ways an improvement on other food ministry attempts. We boxed up hot meals in styrofoam containers, then drove around the neighborhood delivering meals in a beat up van. We brought meals to single moms and elderly people living alone, and we’d bring whatever was left to the street where prostitutes worked and to three day labor office. We were practical about hunger and the needs of hungry people; we included plastic forks with their meals.
But we were also preachy. We brought food, and also offers of prayer and invitations to our Tuesday night Bible study. We held a block party in an empty lot we cleaned up, and when the children came for face painting and balloon animals, we told them about Heaven and Hell. It was a bait and switch. We promised food and fun so they would listen to our sales pitch.
I’ve since been on the other side of this coercive arrangement, hungry and non-Christian in a nation that leaves feeding the hungry to churches. Most secular and government run food pantries offer entirely “donated” food, much of which is actually food industry waste relabeled as charity for the tax benefits. Selections are sad and stale, with five times the pasta boxes to sauce jars and only canned tuna for meat.
Such secular pantries may have long application forms and demand your most recent pay stub and utility bill, to make sure you don’t get “too much” food. They may have limited hours or only allow food pickup once a month. They may set a lifetime limit on how many times you can get help before they decide you’re too dependant on food. When I express objections to using food as bait to ensnare humans, I know how bad the other offerings are.
(Continue to part 2)