Most of us have had times in our lives when we’ve had trouble paying our bills. Some of us know what it’s like to have the lights cut off, or to be evicted, or to have to choose between groceries and other necessities. Hopefully, relatively few of us have truly been homeless or hungry for a significant period of time. But even if we’ve never experienced it we can imagine it. You might be tired, afraid, frustrated, and uncertain of what comes next, or where and when you’ll have your next real meal. You may have no hope and no dignity. You may feel like no one cares.
Then you find that someone does care enough to help you get something to eat. After not eating for a day, or two, or three, do you stop and ask for the nutritional data of this meal? The caloric content or the ratio of protein to carbs to fat? Whether the sugar content is natural or refined? Whether the bread in your sandwich is made of enriched white flour or whole-grain? Do you refuse the meal for yourself and possibly your children because taking a well-intentioned handout seems undignified?
There have been stories lately of people not being allowed to donate to food banks and I wondered what in the world it could be about. In major cities like New York, Dallas, and Philadelphia, if you try to donate food to a local effort to help the homeless you may be turned away. If you try to set up your own local effort to feed the hungry, you may be breaking the law. How does this happen? Let’s ask NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg:
Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
But Mayor Bloomberg, a salt-aholic himself, was unapologetic.
“For the things that we run because of all sorts of safety reasons, we just have a policy it is my understanding of not taking donations,” Bloomberg said.
Told that his administration recently enacted the policy, the mayor was Grinch-like.
“If they did in the past they shouldn’t have done it and we shouldn’t have accepted it,” Bloomberg said.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to mistakenly make someone sick when my purpose is to help him or her by feeding them. And if I were going to help someone I would prefer to give them healthy food, not Twinkies. But wouldn’t our government at all levels serve us better by concentrating on ways to HELP the homeless and hungry rather than stopping those who do?
Our Statue of Liberty says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say don’t send them to a public park and don’t feed them, because that might make them feel undignified. Ask a hungry person whether they’d rather have a ham sandwich or dignity. Dignity is great, but it doesn’t fill your stomach and it doesn’t keep you warm at night.
And, by the way, it is possible to have both.
What kind of control freak government do we have that laws like these are at the top of the agenda? What kind of twisted priorities do they have when they are more concerned with preventing the homeless from congregating in a place where they can find food, rather than preventing homelessness in the first place and helping those already in this desperate situation? Since when does it require a permit to help your fellow human?
And how can we make our government see the light and concentrate on what’s important here – taking care of its citizens?