Midtown Ministries has a food pantry.
I know that many modern urban ministers would advise us to shut it down, because it disempowers people and steals dignity. In fact, I used to think the same thing and hated the idea of offering a food pantry to the community.
But, we did it anyway, and I am so glad that we did.
Let me paint a picture of our pantry:
A neighbor walks in the doors of our cafe. She is immediately welcomed by a loving volunteer who signs her in and hands her an item list. The client sits down at a cafe table, maybe with a cup of coffee, and fills out her list. After sitting for a few minutes, chatting with other neighbors and sipping a hot beverage, the client’s name is called and she hands her list to our awesome, caring volunteers, who then fill up a grocery cart with her selected items.
Then it really gets cool.
The client is connected with a pastoral volunteer who sits down with her and gets to know her. She is asked meaningful questions:
“How can I pray for you? What are you interested in? Tell me about your family.”
The conversations are incredible.
We see roughly 400 people a month. Face to face. Having spiritual, loving conversations.
And these interactions aren’t a one way street. Very often the pantry clients pray for our volunteers. I love it!
People on both sides of the table cry, laugh, shout praises… it’s a picture of the kingdom.
It’s a place where we find our common ground in Jesus.
One of the most common remarks we hear is, “This pantry is so different than other pantries. I love getting to pray… being listened to.”
Is it wrong to set up a food pantry in a poor neighborhood? Does it rob people of dignity and self-motivation?
I don’t know.
Personally, I’m not called to try to fix someone’s economic situation. There are many people who are called to do just that, and I am very thankful for those people.
But my first call is to love. To offer dignity to those who are considered unworthy.
Maybe helping someone get on their feet financially is a way to give dignity.
But nothing makes a person feel more like a human being than when another person sits with them, looks into their eyes, and listens.