Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. (Isaiah 58:7a, NLT)
Like thousands of Presbyterian congregations across the country, the church I serve in Albuquerque, La Mesa Presbyterian Church, knows the reality of food insecurity in the community surrounding the church and among our members. Recent studies indicate that 70,000 New Mexicans seek food every week and some 27 percent of children in the state suffer as a result of food insecurity. Our neighborhood is a lower-income area, so every child at the adjacent elementary school qualifies for a free breakfast and lunch daily, from the federally funded National School Lunch Program.
Like many congregations, we stock a food pantry, helping alleviate immediate hunger for those within our reach. Our pantry is open five days a week, and the shelves are quickly emptied most days. We know that charity alone cannot end hunger, as that requires hunger policy that is just; effective government subsidies like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and free school meals; and a robust economy with good-paying jobs. But that is the world as it should be, while the immediate hunger we see around us reflects the world as it is. Until we have the will to alleviate poverty, politically and economically, congregations seek to address some of the immediate hunger needs.
Another issue we confront at the food pantry is the nutritional content of the food we offer. Every food pantry, knowingly or unknowingly, makes a series of decisions about what foods are offered. We have concluded that cheap calories, those that yield the biggest bang for the buck, are not always the most nutritious calories. Freeze-dried noodles, cookies and canned meats do not necessarily provide the healthiest of diets. So we have tried to tilt the scales of our food purchases toward more nutritious offerings, even though that is more costly.
Fortunately, many local food banks offer fresh produce and bread for free, which grocery stores donate. Our pantry has added a Produce Day twice a month, for which we order the largest shipment of produce available, currently 1,000 pounds. We also order fresh eggs and healthy frozen meats to provide full meals for nearly 50 families. These offerings provide a more balanced diet for our neighbors, helping stretch their food dollars farther.
On this Hunger and Homelessness Sunday, I commend and encourage all Presbyterians committed to the work of alleviating hunger, clearly one of Christ’s imperatives. Fascinatingly, Jesus opted not to serve inexpensive wine at the wedding in Cana, but only the finest at God’s banquet table. That is a glimpse of the world as it should be!
Rev. Trey Hammond, La Mesa Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Let us pray:
Loving Creator God, we praise you because you are gracious, compassionate and faithful to all of your promises. Your eyes see us, your hands are open to us, and you desire to satisfy the needs of living things.
Great Provider, it is not your desire that any of your creatures should suffer hunger. May the food that we eat make us aware of untold numbers of people who do not have enough food.
May the clean water that we drink remind us of the millions of people who do not have clean water. May we never be satisfied while others are hungry, and may our thirst for justice never be quenched.
In the name of the One who is the Bread of Life, we praise you, O God, and bless your holy name.