By Mary Ann Dimand
We are in a month of feast and celebration for many faiths — and for many without a faith tradition. Good spirits, hospitality and habits of giving beyond family and friends mean that shelves are filled — sometimes temporarily overfilled — at local food banks.
After the holidays, though, donations slow and volunteers can be hard to find. And while fasting before or after a feast is a venerable faith tradition, the hungers of poverty seldom bear spiritual fruit for those who suffer it, or for their communities.
Feeding people just because they’re hungry is another strong element of most faiths — one typically lost in a jungle of assumptions about setting incentives to motivate middle-class behavior in people who have fallen off the economic ladder, or who work diligently at low-paid jobs that don’t quite make it possible to feed their families every month.
Jesus said that when we give food, drink and hospitality to the hungry, thirsty stranger, we give them to God (Matthew 25:34-40). He built on strong traditions of hospitality among Israel, who are commanded to support the poor among them “as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you” (Leviticus 25:35). Putting money or food into a begging bowl enacts the central value of compassion to Buddhists, or reaps positive karma for devotees of Indian gods. The giving of zakat to a community’s poor is a duty rather than charity in Islam’s holy law — one of the five pillars of the faith.
Evergreen Christian Outreach (http://evergreenchristianoutreach.org) and Loaves and Fishes (http://loavesandfishesco.com) in Idaho Springs work year-round to feed mountain families. Loaves and Fishes also offers monthly Health Stops with information or quick check-ups for shoppers, and assistance in earning a GED. EChO’s broad array of services includes rental, child care, utility, and auto repair assistance; and needed clothing and small appliances. In-kind donations go out for immediate distribution, but financial contributions pay for utilities and site repairs and salaries for the few paid workers. Moreover, financial gifts can purchase food from Food Bank of the Rockies for as little at 18 cents a pound — a price we can’t beat at grocery stores.
Helping these programs through prayers, volunteer work, in-kind donations, and funds keeps famine from our neighbors, so they can continue to live in our communities.
Mary Ann Dimand heads the board of Loaves and Fishes.