Stealing from the Table of the Poor and Hungry

By Jean Blish Siers *

There’s a great internet meme that shows up in my Facebook feed pretty often. It’s the wonderful Pope Francis saying, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” I love the quote and every time it pops up, it makes me smile. It reminds me of James 2:26: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

The only problem with this quote? I don’t think the Pope ever actually said those precise words. Sure, it sounds like something the Pope would say, and it’s in the spirit of things that he has said many times. He obviously cares deeply for the poor and the disenfranchised and believes action is called for. But I cannot find any speech or paper that actually contains these words.

While attempting to find the origins of this particular quote, I found another that I like at least as much. It’s from an audience Pope Francis gave in June 2013, as the United Nations began its push to help slow and reverse food waste in a hungry world. “Our grandparents,” he said, “used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food. Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value.” Then he told the weekly audience gathered in St. Peter’s Square, “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”

Working for Society of St. Andrew, I’m well aware of the crazy culture of food waste here in the United States, where more produce is never picked or is thrown away than is actually eaten. Forty percent of all food in the U.S. is wasted at some point in the production chain. And worldwide statistics are nearly as bad.

Taken together, these two ideas are the sum of my working life. It’s wrong to waste food when people are hungry, and it does no good to say we care about the hungry if we’re not willing to feed them.

Is it always easy? Of course not. Last week, a farmer told me I could bring a few folks out to clean out some rows of corn, cucumbers, and yellow squash. He needed to bush-hog it by the end of the week to plant more crops, to keep a steady supply for market. But he was willing to wait for us and to take time to show us where to glean when he could have been out working instead. On a hot Thursday morning, nine of us arrived at the field. Those gleaners could have slept in. They could have gone to the gym or gone shopping. Instead, we sorted through vines and stalks and gathered a few hundred pounds of produce that went to three ministries in two counties.

Actions matter, and they speak a lot louder than words. It does no good to say we care about the hungry and yet do nothing to feed them. If we waste food, or continue supporting systems that encourage food waste, we harm not only the environment but also our neighbors who need that food. Join us in a field. Volunteer to deliver food from a farm or distribution center to an agency that can get it to those in need. Ask your local grocery store to give their rejected but edible produce to those who need it, rather than tossing it into a dumpster. Watch your own consumption habits – and become part of the solution, not the problem. That is how prayer works.

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.


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In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

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