I love cookbooks and recipes, I also love to cook. Feeding people I love and also showing forth Christ's love both matter a lot to me. One of the strange joys and blessings in my Newark apartment during this pandemic stay-at-home time, has been cooking three meals almost every day. I have been reminded by this, and by doing liturgy at home, that the Eucharist is so important to me in part because food and feeding people is important. I have also spent a lot of my life in advocacy around food, as a community organizer and as a priest. This time of fasting from the Eucharist has reminded me that my faith is grounded in the community made by Christ who feeds us, and who commands us to feed others. This feeding is about every dimension of life, and it is about joy and pleasure and the children of God being satisfied and nourished.
We fail when we forget that we are called to actually feed the hungry. Even when we don’t know how to begin, the voice of Jesus says, “you give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37; Matthew 14:16; Luke 10:13)
One of the first actions of the early church was to ordain deacons to provide care (including food) for those in the community in need (Acts 6). Arguably this was the church figuring out how to ensure hungry people ate without the miracles worked by Jesus as the menu. Matthew 25 (the sheep and the goats) describes an evocative test for Christians at the end of time—not where we are asked whether we lied, cheated, smoked or drank—but whether we fed the hungry and tended the sick!
Jesus’ teaching and example, and the work of the early church give us a shape for carrying out our responsibility as Christians to feed the hungry: noticing, even finding, where there is hunger and need, and coming up with creative and even new ways to ensure that we feed all those that we are able to feed. This is more than raising money to feed the hungry or collecting food for someone else or some other organization to give out, or certainly at least in addition to those important steps. It also seems to suggest an obligation (found also throughout the Hebrew Scriptures) to ensure that patterns of injustice that make people go hungry are rectified. The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25 and Numbers 36) restores the balance of income and distribution and the poor and hungry are allowed to glean, to gather what is left after harvest so that they may eat (Ruth).
Scripture, our relationship with Jesus, what Jesus has commanded us to do, and our Baptismal Vows all insist that we who are Christ’s church use all our energy, will, and imagination to feed the hungry. Right now, here in New Jersey, there is desperate and growing need. The New York Times reported on this last week (“Food Lines a Mile Long in America’s Second-Wealthiest State” May 1, 2020). One of the statistics cited in the article is that over 40% of New Jersey households have at least one person out of work due to the pandemic. The same article gives staggering descriptions of the increase in people seeking food since the beginning of stay at home, including a food pantry in Summit that used to average 100 families and recently saw 515 families on a single distribution day. What can we do?
There are many things we can do. We can find a way by initiative, prayer and discernment, to make a big difference with the significant needs that are growing every day all around us. That is, after all, how the church was built and the gospel has spread. Here are some books and programs to stimulate imagination (I am sure there are others; feel free to share):
New Jersey native rock star Jon Bon Jovi created JBJ Soul Kitchen, a restaurant where people pay what they can afford, and that has done things such as feed federal workers during the 2019 government shutdown.
One of the most thrilling examples of a ministry that feeds people and helps them to feed themselves is Homeboy Industries in California, founder Father Greg Boyle has written at least two books about the experience of serving in a gang-infested area. “Tattoos on the Heart,” and “Barking to the Choir: the Power of Radical Kinship.”
City Harvest, an organization that collects and distributes countless pounds of surplus food in New York City and which has inspired other similar organizations started because someone who worked at a soup kitchen asked a restaurant what they did with leftover potatoes after making soup!
In recent weeks the Publix Supermarket chain has started buying surplus produce and milk from American farmers to distribute at food banks. (Business Insider April 23, 2020 “Publix is buying milk and produce that farmers would’ve been forced to dump and donating it to food banks”)
These examples may seem impossibly large, yet we are called to have this level of creativity and to achieve ongoing results. They are all examples where an idea led to a larger group coming together and making a difference.
Right now in Northern New Jersey, whole families are food insecure because schools are closed and there are no school lunches; seniors cannot get out to shop safely; others have no access to cars; and so many in New Jersey have lost or will lose jobs. How do we make a real difference? What is God calling us in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark to do? In this time, we need to come together, pray, dream and feed a lot of hungry people!