I donate to food pantries, and I’ve never had second thoughts about doing so. I can’t imagine being hungry, dependent on others for sustenance. Today I was in conversation with others who questioned whether food banks enable the recipients to adopt a lifestyle of dependence and expectation of “handouts.” One person expressed an assumption that most of those in the food line are “addicts.” I’ve no idea if that assumption was based on data or just a notion.
The discussion held valid points about programs to help the needy rise above their circumstances and become independent, as opposed to “handouts.” But what does anyone know about the person in the food line?
Is it a senior citizen whose pension income does not cover the basic costs for food and shelter? Someone working three jobs to support a family? Someone unemployed due to a weak economy, who can barely afford to keep a roof over his head? Or, an addict whose life has spun out of control, perhaps hit bottom, and has no support system to help him find or fund appropriate treatment? Or, maybe the person in line is mentally ill, and has strayed afar for reasons we will never know and could not begin to understand.
And, maybe it’s someone who just wants a free meal. Rarely is a program for the needy not misused by someone who takes advantage of a well-reasoned plan to help those truly in need. That will never change. Humans are flawed beings, rich and poor alike.
I doubt there is anyone in a food line who is very different from some of the people I’ve known in my lifetime. I’ve known individuals with addiction disorders from affluent, socially prominent families who have spent small fortunes in and out of rehab, and are still dependent on someone to care for them, fortunate to have someone care for them. I have seen individuals devastated by mental illness, causing them to become dependent on parents or spouse. Who invites mental illness? Who cares for those disabled by mental illness when no one else will or has the means to do so?
It is easy to make assumptions and judge strangers who are desperate enough to line up on the street for food. But who are these strangers? What do we know about the circumstances that led them to such desperation?
Helping versus enabling is a valid question. Yet, when I am staring hunger in the face, who am I to judge?