Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Faces of Hunger

"Hunger is an assault on human dignity."

I found myself professing these words as we concluded our first night of the Urban Challenge at Romero Center in Camden, NJ. I fail to see in country such as ours, given the extent of our wealth and of resources, how people—too many people—go hungry on a daily basis. To think that children grow up in food insecure homes and the elderly are at a great risk of it, begs the question: why. Why do we allow our brothers and sisters to go without food? How can we help? Working at Virtua Hospital, an extension of the Food Bank of South Jersey provided me with a little more insight into this query. To me, the reality is we don't see or know the face of hunger.

Like me, many people's encounter with hunger is limited to a soup kitchen. St. Anthony's in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco or Cathedral Kitchen in North Camden offer us a likely glimpse of a hungry person. He or she is chronically homeless. Quite often they are a human being down on their luck. Perhaps it's a bad time of the month for this individual as their check just ran out. Their resources are tapped. But this view is very short sighted...or at least that's what I realized as we prepared 3,000 ham and cheese sandwiches and 1,500 chicken salad sets for school children in and around South Jersey. Knowing that so much food was being prepared for so many people made me reconsider that face of hunger.

During the school year, millions of American school children get free breakfast and lunch at their school (known as the National School Lunch Program or NLSP). Thanks to government program, these kids are not only less hungry during the day, they are able to learn because their minds and bodies are nourished. The summer months however present an ardent challenge. However, the good news is that food banks nationwide have responded creatively. They distribute bags with healthy meals and snacks tat libraries, day camps, public pools and from food trucks of another kind. 

I have never seen the children who receive these meals. I do not know this face of hunger...and yet, I do. Seeing in this case is believing. I saw the food we prepared in a seven-hour shift. I met the volunteers who show up weekly, giving of their time and talents to make sure the dignity of thousands of children is respected through a simple and tasty meal.
The beautiful logo of Cathedral Kitchen
This unseen face of hunger challenged me to think differently about who she or he is. What does she or he look like? Where is their dignity respected? How is it compromised?

The Blessed Mother Teresa talked about this unseen face of hunger. She knew first hand that millions of people go hungry on a daily basis, but she also knew what she could do for them. She could give them a hot meal or a cool cup of water. The article "Fr. Bob Fabing, SJ, to Sing for Mother Teresa Toward Sainthood" explains more. 
When Fr. Fabing explained his ministry doing therapy and spiritual direction at the Jesuit Institute for Family Life and at the Jesuit Retreat Center of Los Altos (formerly known as El Retiro), Mother Teresa told him that his job was harder than hers. “I asked her what she meant, and she said that the poverty I dealt with was deeper than the poverty she faced. ‘I can take a bowl of rice downstairs and give it to someone in the street, but it’s harder for you to get a smile out of the people you serve,’ she told me.”
She called us to encounter those who are hungry for love, for meaning, for community, beauty and truth. These hungers are hard to see. We may not know who in our communities, in my classroom and on my team is hungry for acceptance. Who is longing for forgiveness? Who among us hungers for true intimacy—with Christ and with another person? 
Both faces of hunger are an assault on human dignity, and both present their own challenges. First, we must see, hear, touch and hold them. We have the resources and the talents to end each one. This is my prayer for today. Blessed Mother Teresa....Pray for us.

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