Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
[Thanks to Gina Tonn for this important piece during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. From the ELCA's World Hunger Blog]
This week is national "Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week." The recent arrests of several activists in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, over public outdoor meals served to people experiencing homelessness has brought homelessness to the fore of media coverage in recent weeks. This year, Fort Lauderdale passed a series of restrictions aimed at moving feeding sites indoors. These include requirements that all feeding sites have toilet facilities and that any feeding sites be located at least 500 feet away from each other. These new regulations were passed in response to residents' complaints about crowds of homeless people in public parks. The Fort Lauderdale's Women's Club was a particularly vocal supporter of the restrictions, telling Mayor Jack Seiler that the use of one park as a site for feeding people in need made it problematic for them to hold weddings and yoga classes.
Fort Lauderdale is not alone in criminalizing the public provision of food to people facing hunger. In the spirit of raising "awareness" during "Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week," I want to share with you some information about where restrictions on serving meals have been implemented and what the restrictions are.
The passage of laws making it more difficult, or even impossible, to serve public meals to people was first brought to my attention when my colleague shared this article from National Public Radio with me. My interest was further piqued and motivation to put together this blog post heightened when, a few days later, the sidebar of my Facebook timeline informed me that the arrests in Fort Lauderdale were "trending."
A report cited in the NPR article mentioned above, compiled by the National Coalition for the Homeless and just released in October called "Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need" provides an overview of laws enacted during 2013-2014 throughout the United States. These laws are categorized in several ways: restrictions on public property use, food safety regulations and community actions to relocate food-sharing events. The report also notes cities that repealed laws of these sorts during the last year, and places that attempted to pass laws but failed. I invite you to read the report for yourself in order to gain a full understanding of the regulations at hand and investigate whether your community imposed or repealed any restrictions.
Looking ahead, homelessness promises to be an issue that continues to demand the attention of federal, state and local governments, as well as non-profit and social ministry organizations. Just last week, Community Solutions, a national organization whose tagline indicates their mission toward "strengthening communities" and "ending homelessness" announced a new campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the next two years. The campaign, called "Zero: 2016" will launch in January 2015 in 67 communities across the country. Many of these communities, listed in the press release, overlap with the communities imposing restrictions on meal programs. The "Zero: 2016" campaign is an attempt to accelerate housing efforts, connect people experiencing homelessness with available housing options and create public accountability around the issue of chronic homelessness.
ELCA World Hunger is a comprehensive approach to recognizing and fighting the root causes of poverty and hunger in our communities near and far. One takeaway from my time with the ELCA World Hunger team so far is that we are each a piece of a puzzle and all of the pieces are needed in order to make a dent in hunger and poverty. Yes, we need to change societal structure to eliminate homelessness through more accessible job programs, education and supportive housing, and more robust welfare programs. This is, in fact, the stated goal of many laws against feeding people who are homeless. Meals, some argue, create dependency and do little to help people gain access to long-term financial independence.
But we also need to support people who are suffering now. I believe we are called to be advocates of both serving meals to those who are hungry and finding ways to prevent hunger and homelessness moving forward. People who are hungry have a need for food, yet laws such as these are also borne out of need, such as residents' safety. What does it say about who is part of a community when some neighbors are treated as threats to safety or decorum? How are we called to balance different needs within a community?
Gina Tonn is a Program Assistant for ELCA World Hunger through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
"Guess who loved their Farm to EVERY Fork t-shirts?" asks pastor Warren Barnes rhetorically.
"Most of them wore them to school on Monday!"
The Farm to EVERY Fork Forum is in its 2nd year and culminates from nearly three years of networking in the community and with public health groups concerned about healthy eating and active living. Much of this was done through the Healthy Sacramento Coalition, which Grace Presbyterian Church helped to found. Their good standing in the community meant that speakers were happy to participate in a compelling program.
This year's FTEF followed the opening of Grace's CalFresh/EBT weekly booth where folks can purchase fresh produce with their electronic SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits cards -- year-around.
"Grace is a small church with a big heart and vibrant outreach, especially involving food justice and population health," says Rev. Barnes.
Indeed it is!
The Food Week of Action – Sunday Oct. 12 through Sunday Oct. 19 – includes World Food Day (October 16) as well as the International Day for Rural Women (October 15) and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17).
Daily actions are provided below, and see the Food Week of Action page for priority action, worship materials and more: http://pcusa.org/foodweek
I work at a food pantry that supplies fresh produce and non-perishables for countless individuals and families. Just today we had 18 clients visit us in just an hour and a half! These clients range from individuals and couples to families of 6 or more. They are all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, personalities and so on. There is rarely a dull day at our pantry.
That is even more true now. A local grocery store chain, embattled in a family feud, has had managers walk of the job (and some have been fired subsequently) and workers protesting outside stores. Produce ...
Tell us about the project?
We were able to successfully install two rain barrels off the side of Immanuel Presbyterian Church (Indianapolis) that connects to an underground piping system. This piping system exits the ground inside the garden. Soaker hoses can be attached to the exit to water the garden or volunteers can put a watering can underneath the faucet. There is also a stand-alone rain barrel inside the garden. A watering can be filled by lifting the lid to the rain barrel & then dispersed in the garden. This will cut down the cost of maintaining the garden & make it easier for volunteers to water the garden.
Who was involved?
We had five adults and three kids participate in building the rain barrel system. We had seven kids & two adults plant the vegetables in the garden. Since installing, we have had 7 families volunteer to help care for the garden this summer as well as our church's Boy Scout troop.
We spent about 5 weekends working on rain barrels instead of the planned 1-2 weekends. We had great difficulty gathering volunteers at the same time to complete a project of this size.
Challenging? Anything you'd do differently next time?
Installing the rain barrels next to the side of the building posed a challenge. A hill goes off that side of the building (which is what you need for the underground piping) and it took two times setting the rain barrels in order for them to not slant. The difficulty in getting volunteers for this project was also a challenge. We will not attempt a construction project this large any year in the near future. If a large project needs to be done again, we will break it up over many months into smaller much more manageable sections in order to get more volunteer participation.
What would you would encourage others to do if they try to replicate something similar in their area?
Do your research in how to install rain barrels properly. This project is not a cheap expense. Our grant money provided $300 of this project this year. Last year we raised $100 that was used in this installation. In addition, the family that oversees this project donated an additional $300 in order to make this project fully operational. So you will need much more than $300 to complete a project of this size. In addition, consider creating a committee of people in charge of completing an outdoor project of this scale, break the project up in small sections and designate individuals to oversee that portion of the project. Plan the project throughout the winter & have the individuals price out the parts needed per section to better estimate costs. Then, accomplish each section slowly throughout the entire length of spring, summer, & fall. Therefore, it will be fully complete in a year's time. We would also would recommend finding somewhere that the produce can be donated fresh instead of preserved. It is much less work and much easier to get volunteers.
Has this experience changed your church and community in any way?
We are in the interim search process for a new pastor and this project was one of the experiences we have shared that demonstrates some of the success and challenges of undertaking something of this size during a time of transition. It also is helping us continue to grow in our relationship with people who are under-resourced with access to fresh produce and the programs/churches helping them with on-site assistance.
Our congregation has been blessed with a young adult couple (Kelly and Brad Shinabargar) who are passionate about growing healthy food and helping our congregation’s children learn how to garden. They also have a passion for helping people who are under-resourced and the growth of this garden over the course of three growing seasons has been tremendous thanks to their determination, creativity, energy and imagination. We could not have accomplished this project without them and are grateful to God for their commitment to the Youth Garden!