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Hard to digest

BACKSTORY | Lessons on hunger, exploitation, and human flourishing


Sharon Steinmann / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

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ADDIE OFFEREINS is WORLD’s Compassion beat reporter. She covers the work of individuals and organizations committed to helping people at the lowest points in their lives. Especially in today’s climate of high grocery prices, that includes local food pantries. Her story “Lifetime supply,” in this issue, dishes up a revelatory look at how America’s food banking system has a vested interest in keeping people in the bread line.

How did you learn about the rules governing food bank participation? When food prices spiked due to inflation and supply chain problems in 2022, I talked with food pantries that were feeling the economic pinch as lines grew longer. That’s when I learned that most rely on their regional food banks for a steady supply of discounted food and must adhere to their rules, which include not asking clients to do anything in exchange for food.

Some of the ministries you contacted weren’t willing to go on the record with their concerns. What did they tell you? One source declined an interview because he feared retribution and couldn’t afford to lose a vital source of food. Another toned down his concerns during a follow-up interview. He told me his ministry wouldn’t be able to serve on such a large scale if the regional food bank ended their relationship.

One ministry, Watered Gardens, has managed to grow its food ­pantry without relying on the food banking system. How? Sticking with the exchange model—food for work—forced the ministry to turn down Walmart managers who wanted to donate but had already partnered with their regional food bank. So Watered Gardens reached out to other businesses, individuals, and churches in the community. Since then, its market has flourished, even adding sections for frozen food and refrigerated fruits and vegetables.

WORLD defines “effective compassion” as help that is challenging, personal, and spiritual. America’s food banking system fails on all three counts, in part because its leaders don’t have a Biblical view of human nature. What is their biggest blind spot? Their characterization of work requirements as exploitative overlooks the way God designed us for purposeful work. We were created to create. During my conversations with food bank leaders, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 kept coming to mind: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Is it possible to be more compassionate than our Creator? There is certainly a place for no-strings-attached charity. But ministry after ministry emphasized that if your help constantly denies the recipient a chance to contribute, it isn’t actually helpful.


Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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