I have worked at a few food pantries over the last 15 years. In each one, one of the biggest problems was combating the need to control who gets how much. Someone was always worried that those receiving help would take advantage of those giving it away.
If a food pantry wishes to receive canned FDA foods, there certain rules apply that the pantry must follow to qualify. The pantry has to keep records of the people who receive the goods, i.e. social security, picture ID, residency, income eligibility. Time restrictions on how often a person/family may collect food are also set. Each client according to family size receives a certain amount of protein (tuna, peanut butter, legumes), vegetables and fruit each time period.
The reason a food pantry follows these guidelines is that this food comes from the federal government at no charge to the pantry. It is free. That means there is a great deal more substantial food that can be given out to each family every month over and beyond what comes in as donations. But, as I have heard all my life, nothing in life is free. With the free food come rules that exclude. If the pantry does not wish to stock their shelves with federal foods, then that which is given away becomes subject only to the largeness of heart…or the fear that there might not be enough.
Complaints that this, that or another “client” has a cell phone, a nice car, cigarettes, nice clothes or some other you-got-it-but-I-want-it material object causes these things to become a meter by which that client is gauged worthy (or unworthy) to receive free food.
Not long ago, I read Sara Mile’s Take this Bread. Now I am reading her book, Jesus Freak. Two things come to me from these books: Feed my sheep. Feed all my sheep, no exclusions.
It’s all about steadfast unconditional love…that hesed of God. “We can't be taken advantage of when we give away without condition. When we give with the only consideration being that we give to all, no one can take advantage of us. (Sara Miles in Jesus Freak when a student asked if she was afraid that people would take advantage of the St. Gregory of Nyssa Food Pantry) It’s sort of like that crazy verse, “whoever loses his life will save it; whoever is last will be first.”
This is important information for us to digest, not just from a food point of view but for all basic needs that people have. We need food. We need shelter from the elements. We need education and medical care. All these things make up a community. We need to love and be loved. We need community. By what do we monitor another’s need?
The world is full of people who worry that someone else is going to get something he or she doesn’t deserve. We are so worried about that idea that we can’t even see that people are dying from lack of medical attention, food, shelter, love…and more.
These things should not be used as bargaining chip in the game of life. Food, love, shelter and so many other things are not treats to hold over another’s head while asking that person to sit, beg, or play dead.
“Feed my sheep.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Simon Peter – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. And then, when Peter worries about whether or not the beloved disciple should stay or go, Jesus says, “what is that to you?” He did not say, ‘if you think you have enough to share, then feed others.’ He just said, “Feed…” He said “Follow me” not, ‘come on, if and when you have the time.’
What is it to you or to me?
Jesus didn’t tell us who the lambs are. He didn’t tell us where we were going. We cannot assume that there are lambs less deserving. We cannot assume we have the answers. We have only the work that is in front of us. We don’t have time to worry about who we should exclude. The only thing we can safely assume is that Jesus meant all.
Every last one.
This very minute.