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Joni Woolf: Food — The staff of life

During recent weeks, we’ve written about foods for family gatherings: for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for giving away, for small parties. All of this was written with the assumption that the reader had sufficient funds to put food on the table — to create delicious meals for loved ones and friends, and any extra folks who might show up. Again, the assumption is that funds are limitless and that the reader can go out and buy whatever he or she wants to put on the table. Perhaps, as this new year begins, it’s time to step back and look at the reality for many of those who live near us — right down the street, or up the road a ways.
As wealthy as this country is, hunger is a constant problem for large numbers in pockets of our state — and across the United States. The problem has been addressed by churches, agencies and governments for many years, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a retired businessman in Phoenix, Arizona, began volunteering in a soup kitchen, which then led him to soliciting donations of food products from area grocery stores, which led him to looking for warehouses to store the donated food items. The modern food bank model was born.
Since that time, food banks, second harvests, harvests of hope — they go by several names — have become, quite literally, the bread of life for countless families across the nation. Back in the early 1980s, in Macon, I was asked by a Baptist minister to serve on the founding board of what would become the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank (it was the Macon Food Bank at its founding). The board consisted of some eight or 10 of us, not especially important people, but people who believed in the mission, and soon we had a warehouse, and refrigerators, and a director. This happened because one man’s faith led him to believe that this is what we are called to do — to feed the hungry. He corralled a few others, and the work began.
Someone did that, several years ago, here in Americus, and the Harvest of Hope Food Pantry was created. Calvary Episcopal Church, under the leadership and vision of the Rev. Reginald Gunn, the rector at that time, began the effort that has become the local food pantry. It started in a closet at Calvary, then moved to the Sunday School wing, as other churches joined the effort. Eventually, the food bank outgrew the space and had to find a permanent location. In the years since, it has become a ministry involving many local churches, individuals and agencies working together to determine need and to meet that need. All of the staff at Harvest of Hope, including the director, are volunteers, giving their time and energy in answer to the call to serve the hungry among us. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is a life line for many. For some children in Sumter County, it is the difference between having something to eat or nearly nothing at all.
Some years ago I was confronted by the writings of Henry Drummond, a 19th century Scottish evangelist, writer and lecturer. I use the word “confronted” because his words brought me to attention: I have never forgotten them. He says, in part, “In the Book of Matthew, where the Judgment Day is depicted for us in the imagery of one seated upon a throne, and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a man then is not, ‘How have I believed?’ but ‘How have I loved?’… not what I have believed, not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life … the words which all of us shall one day hear sound not of theology but of life … of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, of cups of cold water in the name of Christ.”
As we enter this New Year, blessed to be a part of it, to be here to confront all the challenges that we know are coming our way, it is good to remember another quote of Drummond’s: “There is no happiness in having or getting, only in giving.”
The local Harvest of Hope Food Pantry is there for those in need because this community has said it matters — that this is what we are called to do as neighbors and fellow citizens. The need never goes away. Neither does our need to give. When we think about food, perhaps we should think about what it would be like to be without it, to be hungry. Then, perhaps, we will act.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net