Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Hungry & the Heartless

Corzine, Christie disagree on emergency funding for feeding the hungry

PATERSON -- With the recession draining the budgets of soup kitchens and food pantries around the state, Gov. Jon Corzine today said he is working on an emergency proposal to dig up more state funds for organizations that help feed the hungry.

But Gov.-elect Chris Christie — who had called for a freeze on new spending before the legislative session ends and he takes office in January — said he is leery about expenditures by the outgoing administration as the state grapples with a projected $8 billion budget deficit.
Of course, I support Corzine. But I recognize there's two sides to this. Christie isn't unsympathetic, but he takes office in a month & doesn't want any new decisions on spending before he gets there. The state already contributes. Demand has increased & prvate donations haven't kept pace. My gripe is about the kind of online comments this topic generates, & the deteriorating situation itself.

The people decrying government "give-a-ways" of a necessity as basic as food, & demanding private charity do more, are just as likely to say the charities themselves are bunch of commies, including Catholics, because they don't discriminate enough among the hungry & feed the undesirables, drug addicts, drunks, & illegal immigrants. Or maybe they want more Bible-thumping on the menu, which even the Salvation Army doesn't lay on too heavy. All of the larger food pantries look for some verification of need from those expecting to pick up a box of food every month. Some of them give first-timers an emergency bye. The kitchens, the free meals & Saturday sandwiches are available to all comers. Not even many people who can afford only the Burger King value menu want to sit down & share a simple meal with the needy & homeless just to save a few bucks. But on the other side of the serving table & in the kitchen are volunteers who drive in from the 'burbs to help out, signing up for regularly-scheduled duty.

Even in the current economy, there's no legit reason food pantries in Jersey should be short & free kitchens unable to pull together large enough pots of stew, with bread, & a donut for dessert. Americans waste food like nothing else, in restaurants, in supermarkets, in home kitchens. Dunkin' Donuts tosses 30 gallon garbage bags of edible cake donuts - the kind without fillings - into the dumpsters, & the birds & squirrels gather daily to tear those bags open. It's logistically difficult to collect the prepared food while it still can be eaten; organized donations of canned goods are more sporatic than on-going for civic & religious groups. So supermarkets collaborate with food pantries to make it easy for those who don't want to dig through their kitchen cabinets or buy extra & deliver it themselves to a collection point. They'll add any amount as low as a dollar to a shopping bill & purchase & donate the food for you. Nobody has to actually rub elbows with the poor to keep them from starving. Of all our social problems, the collection & distribution of much more food to pantries & free kitchens in an economic downturn is possible, because it's something Jerseyans will do if they are constantly reminded & given convenient opportunities to contribute.

Many of those "poor" are unemployed or underemployed working folks with families, not eligible for food stamps, but behind in their mortgages & other bills. Would you want to choose between feeding your kids & losing your house? Or selling a reliable car you need to find employment? There are thousands of seniors relying on cheap or free senior center lunches to help make ends meet, & those lunch programs may rely on The Community Food Bank of NJ for some of the food.

Put it this way: Anyone who thinks state guvmint does too much to feed the hungry has an even greater obligation to pick up the slack. Except for the anonymous heartless bastards on the comments pages.

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