The call for acts of kindness and justice resounds each day in our communities. Recently 81-year-old cancer patient Clarence Blackmon desperately dialed 911 for assistance. After returning home from a prolonged hospital stay, he had no food in his pantry and no means to purchase groceries. The dispatcher, alongside other members of the community, answered his call and donated enough food to overflow his pantry. Vulnerable seniors such as Blackmon, many of whom must choose between buying medication and food each month or simply have no ability to go out and buy groceries, represent a portion of citizens who are food insecure in the United States. While the elderly must manage health and mobility concerns that put them at a higher risk for food insecurity…
the impact of hunger is a reality for those unemployed or living below the poverty line, children, and other insecurity-susceptible populations.
Food insecurity in the United States is a pressing issue that demands the attention of the local Pentecostal church. In their 2013 annual research report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that 1 in 4 Americans participated in a food or nutrition assistance program at some point during the year, and that 14.3 percent of American households were food insecure, “meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. Feeding America, the largest network of food banks, hunger alleviation, and food-insecure advocacy programs in the United States mirror this statistic, reporting that there are currently 49 million people in the United States who live in documented food insecure households.
While we rightly allocate energy and resources to global poverty, often the local church’s own neighborhood or immediate constituents cry out with hunger and need. Though the efforts to help our world-wide sisters and brothers are necessary and incredibly important, the disadvantaged in our midst also require attentive support. Christ followers can often be oblivious of food insecurity in our neighborhoods or we often shift the responsibility to social programs or government assistance. As we raise our hands in worship to God, let us not neglect to extend our hands to those in our own city. It was to the “least of these” that Jesus commands us to serve (Matt. 25:35-40). In order to truly be Christ followers, especially in the Pentecostal tradition while we ecstatically sing and dancing in the presence of God, we cannot stop up our ears and step over the poor and food insecure in our community.
There are multiple reasons why local churches are not involved in food insecurity alleviation, whether it is because of societal aversion to poverty or ignorance of its reality altogether. Unfortunately, in the opinion of some congregants, poverty and food insecurity continue solely because of personal indolence and are therefore self-perpetuated problems. While this may be true in some cases, it is definitely not true of all those who live within food insecurity. To others, it seems unfathomable that in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” some people do not have the means to feed their own children. While there are several factors contributing to the issue of local poverty that causes food insecurity, we must not lose sight of the Scriptural command to assist those who are hungry (Isaiah 58:10, Matthew 25:35, Luke 3:11, James 2:14-18, 1 John 3:17-18) and deal justly with the root issues of systemic impoverishment. (Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8, Zechariah 7:9-10, Luke 11:39-42, James 1:27. James 5:1-5)
Food insecurity alleviation is an inescapable reality for a many local communities.
Both locally and globally, Pentecostal churches seek to address and rectify the systemic issues contributing to food insecurity, hunger, and poverty. Churches should and do endeavor to change laws, create jobs and industry in impoverished areas, and enact social change within their immediate or regional context. Pentecostal churches in the majority world view social action as a part of the gospel and there is a move for Western Pentecostal churches to enhance their perspective and social action in their communities.
The local church must have more than a theological stance about assisting the poor and hungry; we must stand alongside the people who are experiencing poverty or food insecurity. Pentecostals do not simply lend a helping hand to those on the margins; we are the margins. In our scramble to be the light of the world, let us not blind ourselves to the glaring reality of the impoverished and hungry among us.
There are several ways in which local congregations can assist their community in regard to food insecurity or poverty alleviation.
- Research about and find the need in your community and raise awareness about the issue. While food insecurity affects millions of Americans, other social needs may be more prevalent in different geographical areas.
- Explore social justice organizations such as Pentecostals for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) or, local to me, Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE) that seek to combat systemic injustice and endeavor to lead toward social transformation. While services and help is integral in poverty alleviation, finding the root cause of social issues will create lasting change.
- Start a small food pantry with donated groceries. Locate families or individuals in need and allocate the food to those in need. Even a small pantry available to congregants and people in the area helps those with emergency needs.
- Fundraise and donate to local food banks or ministries who are combatting food insecurity. To find a food pantry in your area visit http://www.foodpantries.org/.