Institutionalizing Charity–My Old Daddy Wouldn’t Approve

When Handouts Keep Coming, the Food Line Never Ends

By Mark Winne
Sunday, November 18, 2007; B01
How can anyone not get caught up in the annual Thanksgiving turkey frenzy? At the food bank I co-founded in Hartford, Conn., November always meant cheering the caravans of fowl-laden trucks that roared into our parking lot. They came on the heels of the public appeals for “A bird in every pot,” “No family left without a turkey” and our bank’s own version — “A turkey and a 20 [dollar bill].”
. . . And here we are, putting on the same play again this year. But come Friday, as most of us stuff more leftovers into our bulging refrigerators, 35 million Americans will take their place in line again at soup kitchens, food banks and food stamp offices nationwide.
. . . As sociologist Janet Poppendieck made clear in her book “Sweet Charity,” there is something in the food-banking culture and its relationship with donors that dampens the desire to empower the poor and take a more muscular, public stand against hunger.
. . . The risk is that the multi-billion-dollar system of food banking has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, and so tied to its donors and its volunteers, that it cannot step back and ask if this is the best way to end hunger, food insecurity and their root cause, poverty.
My old daddy was an FDR opponent to the core and one of his complaints was that by institutionalizing charity, Roosevelt had taken from us our innate care for one another. He claimed Americans were never so close as during their shared hardship during the depression.
Maybe. Maybe not, but it seems to me a better argument than writing books about empowerment. The answer to 35 million American hungry is not to shut them off from private charity so we can ‘march on the levers of power’ and create yet another institution.

“Both parties were trapped in an ever-expanding web of immediate gratification that offered the recipients no long-term hope of eventually achieving independence and self-reliance.”

Well, for god’s sake, let’s not let that happen. Anyone with eyes can tell that there’s just too damned much gratification floating around the world of brotherly love and charity.
The author’s solution is akin to closing the bridges to homeless, so we can finally ‘come to grips with and solve homelessness.’
Happy Thanksgiving.

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