Hungry NYC Children and an Advent Project

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger released a report last week indicating that nearly a half million children living within the five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Staten Island, Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn) are living in families that can’t afford an adequate supply of food. That is one quarter of all children in NYC. The report also noted that food pantries and soup kitchens have seen a 12% increase in the number of people served in the past year, on top of an increase of 7% two years ago and 21% three years ago.

In other words, more and more people in New York City–something like 1 out of every 6–are hungry. But in the past year, 59 pantries and kitchens closed their doors, unable to run because they’d run out of funds. And that, in turn, happened because the Emergency Food and Shelter Program–a federal program that helps to fund hundreds of New York City’s feeding programs, not to mention thousands across the country–was cut back by 40% as part of the budget deal this year. Additionally, as an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle notes, the majority of pantries and kitchens have received fewer and fewer private donations.

Here, in the shadow of the financial district whose gambling caused the meltdown, one out of every four kids live in families that can’t buy enough food, and both their government and those who can afford to help them out cut the funding that fills in the gaps? Is it any wonder people took to the streets?

Other reports from around the country–like this one at NPR–confirm that the situation in New York City is far from unique. So consider: what can you do to help? What I’m going to do is this: each day of Advent I’ll set aside a small portion of money–like an Advent calendar in reverse–and at the end of Advent I’ll give what I’ve collected to a food bank. It won’t be much more than a symbolic act, but it is what I can do. I hope that, in this way, anticipating Christ’s coming can become an opportunity for loving the people he loves in the way that he did.

Want to join me?

Who Would Jesus Feed?

A recent study from the US Department of Agriculture noted that more than one in five children in the United States lives in a household that struggles to put enough food on the table. Among Latino children, says the organization Bread for the World, it’s more than one child in three that’s at risk for hunger. Ivone Guillen, immigration policy fellow at Bread for the World Institute, noted that while many immigrant families might qualify for programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), they are often afraid to apply, fearing that they might be at risk for deportation if they do. As a result, just 44% of eligible Latino children receive SNAP benefits.

What’s more, current laws limit access to safety-net programs. Undocumented immigrants–AND legal immigrants who’ve been here for less than 5 years–can’t receive SNAP.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that most Christians would argue that Jesus would ask someone’s immigration status and only feed those who entered the country legally. And yet, I’ve encountered Christians who doubt whether we have an obligation to neighbors in need who may be undocumented or “undeserving” in some other way. But extending fellowship and help in the form of food is so basic to Jesus’ ministry–and so basic to what he called his followers to do–that I can’t help but feel certain that it’s these very people–the most at-risk and the least secure economically and socially–that we are especially obligated to serve in Jesus’ name.

It says “Jesus es mi amigo mejor” (Jesus is my best friend.)

“Well,” one might counter, “that’s fine if you want to have a food pantry, or otherwise privately conduct handouts, but the government has no obligation to feed people that have broken the law by coming here.”

It’s true: government might not have any particular obligation to people who’ve entered the country illegally, and so if Congress chooses to cut SNAP even from the eligible recipients, my obligation to my neighbors–all of them–remains the same. My primary allegiance is to Jesus’ values, not Uncle Sam’s. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support my government in measures that I believe are right and just, and protecting the safety net that keeps our most vulnerable members from falling seems to me to be right and just and in harmony with the values of Jesus.

I know that negotiating the relationship between faith and politics is sometimes less than clear. I’ve found that while Christians are often anxious that government doesn’t make legal things we find immoral, we are sometimes less concerned with doing our civic bit to protect those whose rights Jesus would have us defend but whose rights the government does not recognize.

But 20%+ of all children, and 30%+ of Latino children, going hungry, here, in the USA, where we spend almost as much money on weight loss as on SNAP? Where we routinely throw away THIS MUCH food per month?

(Meanwhile, the Justice Department spent $4,700 on 250 muffins for ONE event–that’s almost 7 times the amount given by SNAP to a family of four for a MONTH’s worth of food.)

So I can’t help but wonder: whose benefits would Jesus cut?