You want to see something sad?... Go at the end of the month to your local supermarket and look on the aisle where they sell Ramen Noodles. Chances are the shelves will be empty. One might think, "Man, these items are popular!" But when you look deeper into this issue, you will see that the cause is a little more worrisome. People buy this because that is all they can afford at this time of the month. At the end of the month food stamps are low. If you get a monthly check, it is running out. So for 39 cents you can satisfy your hunger. The bad part is that Ramen Noodles are not healthy. Don't get me wrong! They are not like eating pure lard or anything. But in no way are they good for you. They are high sodium and low in nutrients. I am happy that people with low funds have a choice to eat. Really what I am trying to say in this post is that the church and God's people need to be aware of things like this. Here are a couple of things that will help you serve your community.
1) Check the shelves in your community for one whole month to see if you can see when the greatest needs for food drives are. Some states release food stamps all at once. Some states issues food stamps based on the letter of your last name on a certain day of the month. See if you are in tune with your community flow. What if your church knew that from the 25th until the end of the month is when the hardest times for the people of the community. Won't that change things for you? Then instead of having a pantry full of processed food, you could have a food drive with fresh fruit and veggies for those days only. The rest of the month, you can give away the usual stuff.
2) The goverment has spent a lot of time to determine how much each family needs. So if families are running out then there is a problem. The problem is usually mismanagement of funds or abuse of funds. While there is not a whole lot you can do about the latter, you can equip people regarding the first one. Most people in my expereince who get food stamps will go to the store when they get their food stamps and try to buy all the food they need for that month all at once. Some do this because that is the way their parents did it. Generational poverty has a way of passing down those little habits. Some buy once a month due to lack of transportation. They don't know the next time they will get a ride. If they could be taught to budget weekly and had a means of transportation, this would go a long way. Families who seem to shop once a month will blow the leftover thinking they surely got everything they need. They don't take into account for a visitor at dinner time, growing kids or food going bad.
3) Open your eyes - I wrote a couple of years ago about Jesus being a noticer. (http://mikep23.blogspot.com/2009/11/noticer.html) Many times, caring for those less fortunate is all about caring enough to open your eyes and walk in their shoes. Recently, I attended a luncheon of an organization and during the lunch I heard all of the bad things that will happen to the people they are serving, if this organization does not help. Meanwhile, there are two tables of people that they serve hearing the outcome of their future, hearing the words of hopelessness that are coming across as pity, and hearing that the people they serve are a step below them. If someone who had the power would have opened their eyes and noticed that even if this stuff is true, it might not be best for them to hear this. Just have them outside for this part. That's all it would take. Step in their shoes. Don't prostitute the people you serve and the good you do just for a buck.
SO WHAT??????? Do we do with this!
Here are a couple of things:
Have people whose only role is to be a noticer. They walk the supermarkets. They walk streets. They walk the places that people in the neighborhood walk. Their only job is to ask the question, "What would help people achieve heaven on this earth? What can restore the kingdom of God to these people and this place?"
Be close enough to people that need budget classes that you can actually offer budget classes. Be close enough to people that actually need a ride to the store in your community that you can hook them up with a person who could give them a ride. Most churches/Christians would do these things in a minute but the sad reality is that our churches are not in touch with these people. This isn't a field of dreams where you can just program it and they will come. You have to be in people's lives.
Train people to love and be with people not part of the church. The church has attempted to be the police of the world's behavior instead of the light of the world. We try to police people by our laws. The Bible made it clear that we are foreigners in this world. Our kingdom's greatest laws are to love God and love people. If the people of God would live by their own laws, our lights would shine brighter. Which light will the people of God choose to be? Police lights flashing or a light house? One goes a long way.