(Continued from part 1)
One food pantry I went to broke the mold of moldy bread as a food bank staple. It was in an outbuilding on a church campus and served as one of their outreach ministries. Food pickup was only available twice a month, during a very narrow window of time in the early afternoon of a weekday. A small crowd of us gathered in the parking lot as we waited for the doors to open.
When they did we were all ushered into a wide room ringed with old and musty couches. Religious messages were painted in large letters on the wall, exhorting us to TRUST IN HIM! and the slightly baffling SALVATION NOW. Church members assigned us “lottery numbers” to determine who would go first and have the most selection. Once they had that settled, they asked us all to join hands with the strangers next us, and bow our heads in prayer.
A woman led the prayer, asking Jesus, Lord Jesus, sweet merciful Jesus, to please, oh please oh Lord, just Lord, if he could please, please bring his sweet lordly merciful self into this room and touch the cold hard hearts of the sinners in it. Lord Jesus, sweet baby in a manger Jesus, precious ugly Medieval painting Jesus, that would mean more than food, food only fills our bellies but Jesus the Lamb of God fills us with his Holy Spirit. Oh Lord soften their hearts so that they may find you. Break them of the bonds of addiction. Amen.
I bit my hungry atheist tongue, and was silently thankful a nursery worker had offered to take my hyper son to play with toys during this 40 minutes of boring and insulting nonsense. I rubbed my hands along the seams of my jeans and wished I could wash them before picking out food. I filled my box with meat and fresh produce, juice and even milk. It was definitely the best food pantry haul I’d ever seen.
I put the box in my car and went to find my son. His voice raised in distress, and I followed the sound to him. He was red faced and visibly upset with the woman who’d offered to entertain him. I got him buckled into the back seat and asked him what was wrong. It took a few iterations to get the full story and when I did, I was tempted to turn the car around to go fight her.
This church lady had taken my child with no religious background to the dress up chest of Biblical costumes. He had picked out a plastic Roman helmet to wear and a sword to play with. She looked at my happy innocent child and declared, “You look like someone who killed Jesus!” It was a wildly inappropriate thing to say. He wasn’t familiar with the story of Jesus’s execution and this wasn’t how I wanted to bring it up. My son felt as if he had been accused of murder, and hadn’t been able to convince her he was innocent.
Because to her and other volunteers in hunger ministries, he wasn’t innocent. None of us degraded enough to beg for food were innocent in their eyes. As belied by the other woman’s prayer, they saw us as stubborn, sinful, hard hearted addicts who needed to be more like them. That’s the problem with hunger ministries. No matter how well stocked their pantries are, they see themselves (as I once saw myself) as better than the people they serve, people who need Jesus.