Sunday, October 16, 2005
Beyond the Great American Bake Sale
In New Mexico, we usually experience the fall season with our nose rather than with our eyes. As September merges into October and November, we look forward to two very distinct wonderful aromas: the smell of green chile roasting and a the sweet scent of piñon wood burning in some fireplace in the neighborhood. Those of us who live in Albuquerque do have one very special visual treat: a parade of hundreds of hot-air balloons grace the sky every October during Balloon Fiesta.
In other parts of the country, particularly New England and the upper Midwest, the fall season is a feast for the eyes as the trees explode into different shades of red and yellow and orange, maroon and scarlet and coral. (Above is a photo of fall in Kansas City by Karen Navarro)
But there are universal signs that mark the arrival of fall in our country. Pumpkins start to appear on porches, and your local bagel shop starts to promote its autumn blends of coffees. Fall is also food-drive season, as civic organizations and grocery stores and churches start to solicit canned goods and other non-perishible food items in preparation for Thanksgiving.
Another very nice tradition that has appeared on the scene in recent years is The Great American Bake Sale, a partnership that brings together Parade Magazine, the organization Share Our Strength and corporate America (the makers of PAM spray) to raise funds to help end childhood hunger in our country. "By hosting a bake sale in your community, you'll be supporting the innovative programs in your state that are working to feed the 13.3 million American children now living in homes without an adequate supply of food," said Parade magazine.
The magazine proudly points out that the Great American Bake Sale has raised more than $2.7 million since the program was launched in 2003. Indeed, the campaign has done two great things: to bring greater awareness about the persistent problems of hunger in our own country and to raise much-needed funds for the fight against hunger.
So what is wrong with this picture?
First, there's an irony. The campaign is promoting the sale and consumption of starches and sweets at a time when advocates are trying really hard to promote better nutrition among children. But that is not the real argument. The campaign is an illustration of what we do so well in this country: charity. To truly end domestic hunger, we have to take a step beyond charity and look at hunger solutions in terms of justice. The place to start is the federal budget. Does our federal budget provide the essential tools to bring people out of poverty? Right now, there is a proposal in Congress to cut $3 billion from agriculture programs, which could could endanger Food Stamp benefits for many eligible people. "Budgets are moral documents," says Call to Renewal , a faith-based movement to Ovecome Poverty. "A nation's budget reflects its priorities."
If we want to look at the question of charity vs. justice from a faith perspective, let's consider Mark 12:41-44: 41Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
This is not to say that the Great American Bake Sale, the annual Thanksgiving Food Drive for your local Second Harvest affiliate, and other manifestations of charity should be downplayed. They are much needed and appreciated. What we must do once we've peformed charity is to take the next step into justice.