On an average day, I spend my time in an office—sending emails, reading updates about relevant hunger-focused legislation, and planning the future of Going to the Garden, but some days give me the opportunity to have firsthand experiences that overlap with my work. The Office of Public Witness is based out of the Washington City Church of the Brethren, and the Brethren Nutrition Program soup kitchen is also located in the church, and that means that I am sometimes called on to help in the kitchen on busy days or if the kitchen needs more on volunteers.
Earlier this week, the kitchen was in short supply on volunteers, so I was asked to help cook, serve, and clean up lunch. In my work, it’s easy to get caught up on the statistics surrounding hunger. I know that 1 in 6 Americans face hunger and that nearly 46 million people receive SNAP benefits, and I know that low-income communities of color are more likely to face food insecurity than any other population in the United States. However, knowing all of these facts is still not enough to get the full picture of how hunger affects our society. Volunteering in the soup kitchen gives me the opportunity to see the faces of hunger.
By serving and eating with the guests, I’m able to hear people’s stories of how they’ve come to be at the soup kitchen. I met the older adult couple who eat their lunch at the kitchen in order to save money to pay their other expenses. I met the guest-turned-volunteer who still eats at the kitchen but who also regularly helps with meal preparation and cleanup as a way to give back. I met some who are just temporarily down on their luck and others who are facing insurmountable odds that are keeping them in systemic poverty.
Often, it is easy to think that going on visits to Capitol Hill to share our faith values with lawmakers does enough by asking for their support for legislation that bolsters hunger programs like SNAP. This work certainly is invaluable, but being able to put our faith and beliefs into service is an equally important part of the equation. By working in a soup kitchen, even for a day, it is possible to become more connected to our cause.
In Christ’s Peace,
Food, Hunger, and Gardening Associate
Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and
Global Food Crisis Fund