Just when you start thinking you might be a decent human being, you meet someone who’s really making a difference in the world. While I take the neat and clean way of allotting a payroll deduction to different charities, this man gets messy and hot running the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) kitchen every day.
He probably doesn’t view himself as a saint, and he probably isn’t. But he is there every day providing meals for hungry people. Some of the people he feeds each day would frighten most of us, or, worse, be invisible to us. He understands that some of his patrons won’t thank him, and might take his stuff if he leaves it lying around. He warned us against careless placement of our valuables. Still, he recognizes only their hunger, not their character flaws.
The kitchen manager and all his staff were gracious in the handling of volunteers. They made us feel appreciated for helping, not shamed for missing the other 364 days. Union Gospel Mission serves three meals a day year round. Three hundred sixty five times three equals 1,095 meals a year. For the one meal we prepped and served, 60 or 70 dozen eggs were cracked, eight or 10 gallons of pancake batter mixed, four cases of sausage links cooked, many gallons of frozen juice mixed, buckets of coffee brewed, jugs of syrup decanted, the dining hall set up, and after the meal we cleaned up. We volunteers then got to go home and the kitchen manager needed to start lunch.
I wonder if he has time to look at the news these days. While he is the reliable last defense against people having nothing to eat, he could read stories about those who protest making health care available to more people. If he doesn’t feel that food should be available to only those Americans with the mental, physical, moral, and financial capabilities to provide for themselves, seeing a doctor should not be different. A homeless person needing medical care ends up at the emergency room anyway, but not before he is desperate. Is that the best delivery system for medical care?
When scripture advises that the poor will always be with us, it does not suggest exhorting the value of hard work as the solution. If people are not condemned to hunger and cold for the sins of greed, lust, envy, wrath, and pride, then maybe we shouldn’t penalize them for the sin of sloth.
Laziness is not the primary cause of homelessness/poverty. The Great Depression changed some American reality. People with jobs and work ethics were left with nothing. This led to the creation of Social Security and other safety nets. Causes of today’s homelessness are lack of affordable housing, low pay, mental health problems, medical conditions, and drugs – problems that are societal as much as individual.
Churches have been in the news lately for abuse of children, medical neglect of children, and despicable demonstrations at the funerals of soldiers. Churches might better focus on the real work that lies all around them – helping those who need help.
I’m certain that the UGM kitchen manager would not denigrate checkbook charity, and neither will I. He knows better than anyone that what he does requires the continual purchase of a lot of groceries. But it was good for me to get in there and see his world. The real needs in America are pretty simple.
Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.