Recently, my parents and I were away for the weekend for vacation. When we walked into our house Sunday afternoon, it smelled horrible in our kitchen. There was a strange pool of liquid, and I saw pinkish-red splatter all over the sticky floor. While we stared at the scene, wondering what had happened in two days of absence, Dad pointed to a watermelon on our countertop. The bottom looked as if it had exploded; then it drained onto the floor, and it smelled rancid.
The next few hours consisted of scrubbing, washing, rinsing, desensitizing, and questioning why a watermelon would spontaneously explode in our clean kitchen. After three scrubs, the floor is finally free of the smell and sugar.
Why is this relevant for feeding the hungry? Well, how much good food do you have in your pantry, fridge, or countertops that will expire or you’ll just throw out after losing your appetite for it? It’s not that we wanted to waste a watermelon—we couldn’t know that it was ready to combust the very weekend we left home—but it does make me think about how often we waste food.
“The planet has food for all,” Pope Francis stated in a homily for the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis on May 12, 2015, “but the will to share with everyone seems to be lacking. To prepare the table for all, and to ask that there be one table for all. Doing whatever we can so that everyone has food, but also reminding the world’s powerful that God will call them to be judged one day, and it will be demonstrated whether they have truly tried to provide food for Him in each person (cf. Mt 25:35) and whether they have acted in order that the environment would not be destroyed but would be able to produce this food.”
The call to feed the hungry is a call for mercy—not to give because you feel guilty that you are provided for (be grateful for what you have), not to feel like you’re a better person because once a year you volunteer at the soup kitchen, not a monotonous dropping off of a bag of non-perishables. I’ve had the opportunity to donate food many times in my life through school or church, and I’d like to present ten things I’ve learned that make it a work of mercy.
Feeding the Hungry as an Act of Mercy
1. Be aware of those going hungry at all times.
Do we wait for a food drive before considering the hungry? Honestly, how often do we think of the hungry? When we are hungry, usually we only think of ourselves. When we are not hungry, we probably don’t think of hunger at all.
Take this opportunity in the Year of Mercy to be merciful by growing conscious of the hungry and fostering a habit of helping them, not only when asked but at all times. Next time you are hungry, think of those who won’t be able to eat today.
2. There’s a difference between choosing to fast and being forced to go hungry.
Christians have a tradition of fasting. Often during Lent or in special times of prayer, the faithful voluntarily restrict their eating by fasting or abstaining from a certain food, like meat or candy. This is a spiritual experience a person undergoes to offer it up for an intention or to observe a liturgical season.
I would like to suggest that the next time you decide to fast for a special intention, you think of the hungry. It’s beautiful to use your sacrifice to pray for those who through circumstance can’t eat. Next time you are hungry because you forgot to pack lunch for school or work, instead of gripping about it, consider accepting it and offering up your hunger for those who don’t have the opportunity for lunch.
3. It’s about more than food. Build relationships.
Try to interact with the people who need food. People need food, but they need love more than anything. Giving food is a way to show that love.
Try to find opportunities to serve those who you are feeding. You could work at the food pantry when they are giving out food. Almost every parish has an opportunity like this. You could also try to work at a soup kitchen or another program that allows you to serve and converse with the hungry people who are receiving the needed meal.
This is beneficial for both those receiving and those giving because it builds a community and focuses on the human person and relationship. There are many opportunities to relate to each other, tell stories, give or receive advice, and laugh.
4. The hungry don’t want your canned asparagus either.
Sacrifice isn’t giving away only the food you don’t like. When we don’t put a lot of thought into something, it usually ends up… thought-less. That being said, giving food to the hungry is objectively good, but such an act is even better when subjectively done with thought and good intent.
Think about this when you raid your personal pantry for a food drive. If you’re just giving away the canned asparagus because you don’t like it, then please still donate it but know you didn’t do it with mercy. You wanted more space on your shelf for food you like. If you were mercifully searching for food to give to those who need it and decided that you won’t eat that asparagus and maybe someone else at the pantry likes it, that’s thoughtful and merciful. Do you need ten cans of corn, just because it’s your favorite, or do you think at least three could go to the pantry because others enjoy corn as much as you do?
It should feel more like you’re giving a gift than just dropping off your unwanted food.
5. There’s more to non-perishable food than beans and rice.
I remember living off of beans and rice one summer in my apartment. That lasted for about one week. I wanted variety, so peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other quick, simple, and cheap meals went into my diet. In truth, I never finished that ten-pound bag of rice I bought; the remains were passed along to another who probably had better recipes for it than I did.
It reminds me of how we tend to donate to food pantries. Not only do we give away food we don’t like, but we also tend to be ignorant of what we can donate. What does non-perishable mean? Well, don’t donate a watermelon—that’s for sure! Non-perishables are canned food that doesn’t expire for a long time or dried food. They are foods that can sit on a shelf for long periods of time without needing refrigeration, which includes but is not limited to rice and beans.
To help you understand better, here’s a list of examples: https://www.shfb.org/mostneededfoods
6. Food is a basic right for all.
People become very enthusiastic in political revolution and rallies. They give millions of dollars to support a candidate or cause because of their ideals. Often, their enthusiasm is because they believe they have a right to something. For example, the United States of America has an entire Bill of Rights listing what its founders considered rights of its citizens to have.
As Christians, we may agree or disagree with what people say are rights in the political sphere, but we can all conclude that every human person has a right to food.
The USCCB in “For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Social Teaching and Agriculture” remarks, “Every person has a right to life and to the material and spiritual support required to live a truly human existence. The right to a truly human life logically leads to the right to enough food to sustain a life with dignity. The poverty and hunger that diminish the lives of millions in our own land and in so many other countries are fundamental threats to human life and dignity and demand a response from believers.”
If we supported the basic universal right to food in the same way that many in society support political causes, then the hunger in our worldwide community would rapidly decrease and possibly even be eliminated. Ask yourself, why aren’t we as conscious of the right to food as we are to other things, especially when as believers this need demands a response from us?
7. Caring is sharing. Avoid wasting by giving.
There’s no need to feel bad if we eat a wonderful meal at a celebration, but I think there is cause for concern when we let food expire or often find ourselves buying deals at the grocery store and never actually using the food. There is a call to prudence, so next time you have a coupon for an abundance of food, make sure it’s all eaten or donated, if possible.
Like the exploded watermelon in my parent’s kitchen, sometimes food just goes bad. Let’s make it a point not to waste our own food, keeping in mind that there is both extreme abundance and extreme poverty. To balance out the scales in our society, be frugal and prudent with your stocked pantry, and also generous and consistent in sharing with hungry people.
8. Stop saying, “ I’m starving!”. You’re not.
People say it all the time—“I’m starving!”
The word “starving” comes from an Old English word meaning “to die.” The majority of the people (at least in my community) that use the phrase “I’m starving” mean to say “I’m hungry” not “I’m going to die from lack of food.” An overdramatic expression about a need for food doesn’t equate it to the level at which starving people struggle.
The call to feed the hungry includes those around you and yourself. Food is good for your body, and you should eat on a regular, healthy basis. But, next time you think you are starving, remember that you are most likely not one of those people who can’t find food and actually struggle with starvation on a daily basis. No one likes to go hungry, but let’s be realistic about our own experience of hunger.
9. Learn what “hungry” looks like.
You pass by the hungry every day and don’t even realize it. In school, you or your children likely have a peer (or multiple peers) who go without food more often than we think. At work, a coworker may be hiding the fact that he or she is sacrificing lunch to make ends meet. We can’t fix all the problems alone, but we can take opportunities to share our meal, give a meal, or donate to helpful organizations that feed the hungry people in our own community.
If you are in a well-developed town, you may not easily notice or have people in need. Do your best to help your neighbors and start branching out to the larger community. You never know where you’ll end up providing food for those who really need it.
10. Let the experts do the math.
There are food pantries and organizations that have carefully budgeted a way to take your dollar and turn it into food for hundreds.Jesus multiplied fish and loaves of bread to feed five thousand, and though not through a miracle like Jesus, organizations do exist that find a way to feed hundreds on a low budget. What a blessing! Research what organizations you wish to help out, and give your time or money to help them with their charitable cause.
When you give, it’s as if you are taking what you have and multiplying its worth for those who need it. Think about the larger community—country-wide and world-wide—you’re able to help!
A list below provides some options:
- Feeding America
- Feed My Starving Children
- Food for the Poor
- Action Against Hunger
- Bread for the World Institute
- The Hunger Project
- Heifer International
- Meals on Wheels
- Food for the Hungry
- Catholic Relief Services
- Catholic Charities
If you take anything away from this post, take this: Feeding the hungry is more than a food drive, volunteer hour at a soup kitchen, or sharing of a meal with a friend—it’s an act of mercy.