Should a child go to bed hungry in this country of abundance? Should working parents with two children have to go to a food bank to supplement their ability to provide meals? Should an elderly person have to choose between filling a needed prescription or buying food for the week? Are any of these situations just?
These are just some of the questions thousands are facing today, but history tells us these are not new problems. Leviticus instructed our ancestors to leave the corners of the fields and the fallen fruits of the vineyards for the poor and the stranger, who could then glean what was left.
Today, businesses close; jobs are lost; rents and mortgages cannot be paid; evictions occur; poverty and homelessness abound. Many are without means of transportation. Food insecurity finds people who have never needed help before now needing help. Some people live in “food deserts,” meaning their access to food is miles from where they live. The cycle is vicious and seemingly never-ending.
Are there ways that we can attack the problem of hunger in a meaningful way? Of course. Can we eliminate the problem? Not likely. Do we have an obligation to do as much as we can? Absolutely. Here are some examples of successful initiatives in this area:
- Several years ago, a group of Milwaukee, Wisconsin synagogues partnered with a Jewish social service agency and developed a program known as “The Glean Machine.” On a regular basis, congregants would contribute clothing, household items, and non-perishable food to The Glean Machine which would then make distributions to those in need.
- A high school in Sanger, Texas has opened its school grocery store to the public on Tuesdays. Conceived as a training program for teens and funded by a grant, the store has become a win-win situation: families in need get free food and students learn life skills and the value of giving back to the community
- The Ajo Farmers Market & Cafe in Ajo, Arizona, near the Tohono O’odham Nation has been turned into a food pantry. Food is distributed weekly.
- Operation Division South of the Tucson Police Department in partnership with BMW Ministries and the Pillars and Bridges program have distributed 60,000 pounds of food from the US Department of Agriculture in Phoenix to families they serve at two recent events.
- Before the pandemic stopped it, the Homer Davis Project of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona packed weekend food packages for students each week. Since May 2020, the project has found alternative means to provide food to the families, delivering food packs to an offsite location.
Addressing hunger can feel like an overwhelming task, but there are many ways that you can contribute:
- Call or write your elected representatives to indicate your support for legislation that is pending locally or nationally to address food insecurity.
- When it is safe, volunteer your time.
- Contribute to Mazon. Contribute to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Contribute to the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, which addresses food insecurity through a variety of initiatives, including the Homer Davis Project, the Isaiah Project, and the Jewish Community Pandemic Relief Fund. Contribute to any organization helping to address the problem of food insecurity.
All these things can be done. This is our duty. This is how we seek justice.
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof l’maan tichyeh” – Justice, justice, you shall pursue, that you may live…
Audrey Brooks is an Emeritus Judicial Member, State Bar of Wisconsin, lifelong volunteer, and current Tucson Hebrew Academy Board Trustee.