Image source: Operation Blessing International
I continually get questions about the people we serve in our efforts to eliminate hunger in our community. These conversations typically follow the lines of "Do y'all give out food to anyone that wants it or do you check them out to make sure they really need it?" I understand where these folks are coming from, honest I do. Growing up in rural South Georgia, I have seen the abuse of governmental programs first hand.
So when I answer this question, I first describe what our organization does. It collects and transports food to food pantries and shelters. The food pantries are operated by local churches and other nonprofit organizations. These groups work very hard to get to know the families they serve and their individual situations. Not because they are trying to stop people from receiving help, but because they want to ensure they are helping them in the most appropriate and effective manner.
A couple of stories to illustrate this point. One of the food pantries works with a social worker in the local school system to identify families in need. They then make contact with these families and determine if they have transportation so they can come to the pantry and pickup groceries. At any given time, they have 18-20 families that do not have transportation. For these families, they make a weekly delivery of food. these deliveries provide their volunteers with a first hand look at the family's situation. When the family obtains transportation, they notify the pantry so another somewhere can receive a delivery. The manager of the pantry shared with me that they delivered to a Hispanic family and the father was quite bothered with accepting the assistance despite the fact they genuinely needed the food. A volunteer that could speak Spanish began talking with him, and he shared that he did not want free food. What he wanted was a job. He was a construction worker. He was able bodied, and he wanted to work and provide for his family. The volunteer discovered that the man had been turned down for job after job because he did not have steel-toed boots. And, being out of work and trying to keep the lights on, he did not have a means to buy a new pair of boots. The church that operated the pantry got him and the other men in his family steel-toed boots. All of the men in the family got jobs and notified the pantry they no longer needed their assistance.
A couple weekends ago, my wife and I made 5 of these deliveries one rainy day. Not only did we not see any undeserving recipients, we saw families doing everything within their power to be independent. One family consisted of a grandmother, mother, and two small children. When we were there, the grandmother had just arrived home from working 14 hours straight - working to keep the utilities on, rent paid, and medical bills covered. By anyone's standards, she should have been retired and enjoying her years. Instead, she was trying to provide for her family in hard times.
These are authentic needs. These are real families that have endured setbacks and hard times that they are struggling to overcome. They have swallowed their pride and asked for help not wanting their children to go hungry. I cannot fault them.
So, we serve.