Are charity and entitlement really that different?
Dear Mrs. Sanderson,
I wouldn't be upset with Mr. Jenson. He asked an important question. I am sorry that I didn't prepare you to answer it, but if you'd like I'll talk to him myself. I don't think he completely shut down the possibility of getting involved… he just wants to understand why you're doing what you're doing.
To sum up his question, he asked, "Why are we setting up a food pantry when the people we want to serve can get food stamps?" He doesn't realize it, but he points right at the heart of the difference between "entitlement" and "charity".
Love is the key
The difference between a food stamps card and the food pantry is kind of like the difference between getting a meal at fast food restaurant and eating Sunday dinner at Grandma's house. Sure, they might serve the exact same food (although Grandma's brownies will beat the stuffing out fast food any old day), but it's the intangible thing that makes the biggest difference. It's the love.
When people come to our food pantry, we want them to experience all the love that you shower on your grandchildren. Mr. Jenson asked, "What if they keep coming back over and over again?" GREAT!!! That gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with them. Perhaps look a little more deeply into their problems. And let the love they experience at your food pantry bear fruit.
Most people who will come to our food pantry are in a heap of trouble. They might have medical problems, drug and alcohol addictions, and certainly financial problems. No one is excited about going to a food pantry to get help. It's almost always a last resort.
The Pit of Despair
I hope you don't mind, but I want to share a personal story. Would it surprise you to learn that I went homeless during my late twenties? I was living and working in Hollywood when I had a complete nervous breakdown. I lost everything. My fiancé, my house, my job, and maybe worst of all, I lost my mind. The doctor that saw me said I would have to be institutionalized and that I would never work again.
I couldn't think. I couldn't work. I had no insurance, so I couldn't afford medications. How did I survive? Charity. My sister, my old college roommate, and finally my parents let me stay with them. Social workers call this kind of homelessness "couch surfing." I was totally dependent on the kindness of others. Without it, I would have been that crazy guy that you see walking around downtown in the middle of the night.
It is the most awful thing I've ever experienced. I only survived, the reason I did not kill myself, is that people loved me and put up with me in my wrecked state. For a long time. It took me YEARS to fully recover.
The light of charity
When I was in that black pit, I was absolutely powerless to do anything about my situation. Thankfully, my family and friends jumped in and gave me a couch to sleep on and food to eat. Even in that darkness, I was blessed.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who don't have anyone they can depend on. One of the effects of the disintegration of the family is that lots of people are completely isolated. They have no one to turn to when the darkness threatens to overwhelm them.
And let's face it. Food stamps don't care. It isn't designed to. It's created to provide a small amount of supplemental income to people who meet the specified economic characteristics. It can't comfort the new widow, the single mother, the disabled veteran. Not the way you can.
I hope you realize… you're not just handing out food. You're walking with people out of darkness. Loving them in the midst of terrible situations. Serving them with no hope of repayment. In the hopes that the light of your charity will have the same transformative effect that it did in my life.
And that's the answer to Mr. Jenson's question. The world can provide bread and circuses to the poor, but it cannot love them. Only love, the self-sacrificing love we see on the Cross, can save them. That is why you're starting a food pantry.
Nathan - The Almoner
P.S. If Mr. Jenson still isn't interested after hearing your answer, don't worry. We want someone who is as passionate about your vision for the food pantry as we are. We'll move on and find someone else to help you fundraise.
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