On Thanksgiving Day we feast. Sometimes the thanksgivings are offered quickly to make way for leisure time. However, without finding a genuine posture of gratitude, giving becomes difficult. We clench our fists around what we have. If we are honest, most of us have more than enough. Our God is a God who sees: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). Any amount of abundance he knows completely. As his people, we are called to respond to God’s extravagant love by offering thanks and by giving. The Thanksgiving holiday carves out a space for us to pause. To inculcate gratitude. To do so, we need to open our eyes to the world around us.
What do you know of hunger?
At Vacation Bible School this summer, I sat at the preschool table in a little chair. Eight preschoolers ate their snack on napkins, acquiring sticky hands and red juice moustaches. An extra fruit snack lay in the middle of the table. An elderly volunteer took the package and opened it carefully. “We didn’t have snacks like this when I was little. We didn’t have snacks at all.” She ate each piece slowly.
At the Fourth Cup Cafe Bible study I attend, an older man raised his hand. He sat hunched over and asked for prayer for a single mom who had just moved into the area. She had no furniture, no food. His voice broke and his eyes filled with tears. “I knew what it felt like to be hungry growing up. You don’t forget that feeling.” He passed away a few weeks later, but his words remain in my thoughts, like the memories of my grandpa who never forgot the Depression. He often told stories of how his neighborhood friends brought mustard sandwiches to school in their tin pails.
900,000 Canadians access food banks each month. Second Harvest Food Rescue estimates one in eight Canadian families struggle to put food on the table. 40 percent of those needing food assistance are under the age of 18. Woman, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to the effects of poverty.
Globally 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat (World Food Programme). Each year 3.1 million children die of causes related to poor nutrition or hunger. The leading causes of hunger globally are poverty, lack of agricultural investment, climate and weather, war, displacement and food wastage.
Different kinds of hunger
Food insecurity occurs when families do not know when or where they will find their next meal. Families may have food, but of low quality nutrition. With food prices increasing around the world, many families must purchase quantity over quality. Low-cost foods are often processed foods. In these situations families may have enough food to curb hunger, but not enough food to provide the nutritional benefits needed for growing children and healthy adults. This type of hunger is prevalent, but often hidden.
The park close to my home hosts children all summer. The public school food program arrives every day Monday thru Friday to serve a free lunch even in July and August. For some kids it will be their first meal of the day, others their last. Most public schools offer breakfast in addition to free hot lunch programs. In almost every classroom you will also find a stash of nutritious snacks, because children’s ability to learn is greatly hindered by empty stomachs. In Canada, Breakfast for Learning establishes school lunch programs. Students who sit beside our own children know hunger.
Hunger and bias
Eugene Cho, pastor, author and founder of One Day’s Wages spoke to a congregation in Holland, Michigan recently about crushing our expectations of what is “fair.” Just this week I read a social media conversation that illustrated his point. A cashier at a grocery store felt the need to call a mother to account for buying Oreo cookies with SNAP benefits (government food assistance in the United States). Similarly, a recipient of Feeding America, a food ministry located on church parking lots, found himself buying a small coffee at Panera Bread after a work shift. A volunteer recognized him. She told him if she ever saw him buying coffee there again, he should not come back to the Feeding America program. The man told me that he was sometimes hungry, but would be too ashamed to go back to the church distribution. The factors that lead to hunger assistance in the world and in our neighborhoods are deep and far-reaching. We would do well to dispense with our own concepts of what is “fair” and look through the eyes of our compassionate Jesus. The paths that deliver one to hunger are not glamorous or desirable. You do not know a person’s story until you do, and when you do, your perspective might be enlarged. In Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats (Matt.25), the correct response to “I am hungry” is to offer food. What would please the King? Food given with great love or with preconceptions and prejudice?
There is a place at the table for everyone and every person who has “enough” can make a difference. A documentary by Bread for the World, A Place at the Table, is a great starting point for awareness. The story of “Stone Soup” from Food Bank Canada begins with a hungry traveler turned away from multiple doors, because the homeowners had only enough food for their own families. The traveler fills a pot with boiling water and throws in a stone, all that he has. Soon a passerby throws in some carrots, another family a few potatoes, another person a few onions. A group gathers, everyone contributing a little extra. Where once there was hunger is now a life-giving soup.
Community gardens provide extra produce for those in need. Even if you live in urban areas, there are options for growing your own food. Farmers Markets have led the charge in education and provision of nutritious options for hungry families. One-third of all food produced is wasted, so part of Christian creation care includes awareness of our consumption habits. Learning to curb waste and encourage similar diligence in larger venues like schools, offices and restaurants can make a huge difference.
A number of organizations make getting involved in hunger awareness and relief efforts comparatively easy. Canadian Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of Canadian churches and church-based agencies. Through Foodgrains Bank you can watch the documentary Facing Hunger, use their worship resources, eat a ration meal or view the Just Food Art Exhibit online. If you love to snap photos of your culinary skills or dining choices, load those photographs onto Instagram with the Feedie App and a meal is donated. Students can study vocabulary through Rice 2.0 and donate grain at the same time. Check out a list of needs at your local food bank, go shopping and deliver the goods. Afterwards, sit down with your family and talk about sustainable food sources. Heifer International has great resources like videos that explain their work close up. Meals on Wheels pounds the pavement to keep the elderly fed with nutritious meals on a daily basis.
Reading about hunger with the kids
Citizen Kids Books, based out of Canada, have two stories that I highly recommend for families. “The Good Garden” takes us to the hills of Honduras where we meet Maria Luz and her family. Their food supply is running low. A teacher comes to town and educates the family on compost, terraces and selling the products at market. This new knowledge shared throughout the village allows the family and village to become self-sustaining. “One Hen” brings readers to Ghana, to meet Kojo, who survives with his mother by selling firewood. They are given a small loan to purchase a hen. Soon there are eggs to sell and eat, gradually financing a poultry farm. Over time the farm is able to hire workers and benefit the entire village.
In the Book of Revelation, we are given a picture of heaven, a place where “they will hunger no more and thirst no more.” This Thanksgiving, pause to offer thanks. Pause to give. Extend your thanksgiving beyond the holiday.
A Thanksgiving Prayer
Thank you for your extravagant love.
Help us respond to hunger with open hands that give without expectation.
Help us to offer what we have and give the best we have. Amen.