Brooklyn-based pastor Ann Kansfield offers a glimpse into running a soup kitchen, and suggests a few real ways in which celebs and politicians can help feed the hungry.
‘Tis the season for the media to remember the plight of the soup kitchens, food pantries and other local organizations struggling to feed hungry people. Usually it starts just after Halloween, in a build-up toward Thanksgiving. But this year, those of us who operate hunger relief organizations got an early Thanksgiving “present” in the form of additional attention thanks to Paul Ryan’s photo-op at the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity. And, now that soup kitchens have your attention for this brief moment of the 24-hour media cycle, allow me to tell you what feeding hungry people is really like. It’s difficult, exhausting and gut-wrenching work. Why? Because, the vast majority of soup kitchens and food pantries are beholden to the good will and kindness of others. As the person responsible for ensuring that the soup kitchen has enough money, volunteers, food and supplies to get the job done, I have to keep a lot of people happy.
I do not know the exact situation of the soup kitchen in Mahoning County, but if it is like the soup kitchen and food pantry for which I’m responsible, the situation looks like this. Government grants provide you with a significant amount of the food you need, but because Congress hasn’t agreed on the Farm Bill there is far less food available right now. We feed 6,000 people per month, and the only other government aid we received was $4,000 from our city councilman. The rest of the money needed to operate – to pay the utility bills and purchase things like garbage bags and toilet paper – has to be raised from private donors.
I would LOVE it if Paul Ryan or any other elected official visited our soup kitchen or food pantry. We could show him just how important the Farm Bill is to the people we serve—it provides organizations like ours with food through The Emergency Food Assistance Program and provides our clients with SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) which they spend in grocery stories, boosting the local economy. We’d explain to him how soup kitchens and food pantries need operating funds, so that we can function more efficiently.
I bet that Mr. Ryan’s office called ahead and attempted to schedule his visit, but no one answered the phone. That’s because we don’t have any money to hire a person to answer the phone, or to coordinate volunteers or even to raise the necessary operating funds. Brian J. Antal, the present of the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Mahoning County, noted that he is a volunteer. I’m fortunate that I am paid to be the executive director of our program. I make $22,500 for a half-time job, but I usually work about 40 hours per week—someone needs to coordinate volunteers, interact with donors, write reports and build goodwill.
Everyone loves a soup kitchen at Thanksgiving, especially politicians. And we love them, too. But rather than scrub pots and pans (and then most likely have to ask someone who volunteers regularly where to put them), the best way for celebrities and politicians to make a difference is to advocate on our behalf. Use the power and clout that you have to make a real change for your local soup kitchen and food pantry. Right now, we need the Farm Bill passed. Paul Ryan could help make that happen. Celebrities have raised millions of dollars for political campaigns this season. If just one celebrity would host a fundraiser for our soup kitchen and food pantry, we’d most likely meet our annual fundraising goal ($50,000 before the New Year).
It sounds greedy and feels yicky to have to ask for money day-in and day-out to feed hungry people. But that’s what we need, and I assume it’s what they need at the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society. The government isn’t providing it, so we have to ask. I’m sure that Mr. Antal will ask today, and I’ll ask today. Will you make a donation so that we can feed hungry people?
Pastor Ann Kansfield runs the Greenpoint Reformed Church Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Greenpoint Reformed Church does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status or faith background (or lack thereof). Anyone and everyone can receive food at the soup kitchen or food pantry, no questions asked.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer