Shave a hipster ‘stache – save the world!

Twitter pal, Chris D. Stedman

Here’s a ridiculous thing.

Ridiculous, or just plain sorry, I don’t know.

I have this Twitter pal, Chris D. Stedman, a stand-out fellow any way you look at it. He’s a writer, atheist-interfaith activist, public speaker, supporter of social justice here, there and everywhere. He’s also the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, and he’s funny and smart, to boot, my two rock-bottom requirements for calling anyone “pal.”

So he and the good people at the Harvard Interfaith Collaborative are working to raise $5000 to make 20,000 meals for food insecure kids, as part of a Thanksgiving humanist-interfaith action — and there is almost nothing that is not awesome about that sentence: Feeding hungry kids, at 25 cents a meal (!), marking the holiday of gratitude by giving back, and building alliances between different faith communities, including the community of humanists. In a word, this is holy work. (Ok, that’s two words. And it’s kind of faith-ist. But roll with me).

And to sweeten the pot, Chris has offered to shave his ‘stache if they make their goal. (I know!) (Though I must say, I’m kind of Team ‘Stache, myself).

But that is not the ridiculous thing. The ridiculous thing is that $5000 is a teeny-weeny-tiny amount of money. You and I both know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who could write a single check for $5000 and not even feel it.

And yet off goes the Harvard Interfaith Collaborative, trundling down the Internet Super Highway, asking people for $10, $25, whatever they can give. Most of us who can’t write $5000 checks at the drop of a hat are already stretched a bit thin these days, and we are, of course, all any of us have to rely on most days. Because the folks with the $5000 checkbooks don’t often write $5000 checks in our vicinity.

So. If you would like to toss a little bit of dosh into the pot, please do — just click here, and you’ll even be able to read about Chris’s shaving plans! (Or, if you’d rather, cast a vote for Save The ‘Stache, by clicking here).

And if you happen to know someone with a $5000 checkbook? Please pass the word along.

Hunger – update.

It turns out that September is Hunger Awareness Month! I had no idea that this was the case when I wrote yesterday’s post in a froth of anger, on August 31, but every once and awhile, my anger and the cultural zeitgeist are in the same place.

The Feeding America site has a page that lays out how little it can actually cost to provide meals — one latte, by their figuring, equals nine meals. (If you doubt the math here, check this out: An illustrated comparison of what $4.86 would buy you at a grocery store, vs. what a local food pantry could buy with the same $4.86 at the Greater Chicago Food Depository).

The Cheesecake Factory (and, of all people, David Arquette!) is partnering with Feeding America this month on a hunger awareness campaign — among other things, if you bring in two cans of soup, they’ll donate 10% of your check to a local food pantry. I like the way that this program speaks directly to our shared responsibility. (On a side note, it seems that Arquette is pretty dedicated to this issue — in his own goofy way! Good on ya, David!)

A final note: You may have noticed that I’ve categorized these posts as “Domestic Politics” — because that’s what hunger is.

While it’s true, as a great Jewish rabbi once said, that “the poor you shall always have with you” (Matthew 26:11), it is also true that many among the poor and hungry need not be either. The politics in which we engage creates the circumstances in which some people are locked in a cycle of poverty, a cycle that frequently leaves them without access to food. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote (about men and how it can be sometimes be difficult for men to understand the struggles women face), the problem in dealing with injustice is often not a problem of empathy — it’s a problem of imagination. We need to be able to imagine the extent of the suffering, feel it on our own flesh — not just feel bad when we notice it. And as author Kim McLarin once wrote (about white folks of good will thinking that racism has been defeated because they are personally nice to people of color), we need “a sociological imagination — the ability to link individual experience with greater societal patterns and with the course of history.”

Many of the poor and hungry in this country — especially the working poor — are poor and hungry because we have made political decisions that perpetuate their poverty and their hunger. The responsibility we have to address poverty and hunger is a shared one, and it is political.

Hungry kids.

A late, brief post today because I was busy all day trying to get my head around a book review, and spending some lovely time with a lovely friend.

Lovely Friend is the Operations Manager of our local food pantry, and as we ate lunch under a brilliant blue sky, swatting away sleepy bees and laughing over family tales, she told me a little bit about her morning’s meeting, along with some facts and figures about hunger in our home state of Illinois — stuff I felt that I should have somehow known.

Stuff that filled me with a shapeless rage.

  1. In the United States of America, there are two states that have budgeted nothing — zero dollars — for hunger relief. Illinois is one of them.
  2. Of all the states — plus the District of Columbia — Illinois ranks dead last in providing breakfasts to needy schoolchildren. #51, in a country with 50 states.
  3. In our own school district, breakfast is provided on a per school basis, according to percentage of children in need. My kids’ school offers breakfast; others in the district do not. Should you be a hungry kid in the wrong neighborhood? Well, good luck to you, then.
  4. And should you be a parent looking for food stamps for your family? Well, start with the 11-page form (among the questions: “Are you or is anyone who lives with you expecting to receive more than $26 in income from a new source within the  next 10 days?”) and expect not one, but two meetings with DHS officials in order to verify your eligibility. In Illinois, many DHS offices have a caseload of more than 2,000. What does the Illinois Department of Human Services think the caseload should be? No more than 600. (In most states, mind you, it’s less than 300).

All of these facts point to one thing: hungry children. I feel numb with the anger. How, exactly, are we served by failing to feed hungry children?

I can hear conservative voices blaming the parents, and you know what — sure. There are a lot of piss-poor parents in this world, some of them unable to get their lives together enough to actually get food for their kids. But even so, maybe especially so: How are we as a society served by allowing any child to go hungry? How are we served by punishing children for the perceived failure of their parents? How can this not be the first item of any budget, anywhere?

Lovely Friend and I finished our lunches, and I picked up some bagels to go. I’ll be toasting them for a light supper tonight, a little cream cheese, some scrambled eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables on the side. My kids will complain about something on their plates — and I, suddenly, will feel grateful that they have the luxury to do so.


*For more information on hunger in Illinois, and advocacy suggestions:

Feeding Illinois (you’ll also be able to find area food banks, by zip code or county)

The Illinois Hunger Coalition

Heartland Alliance

*For information about hunger/advocacy suggestions across America:

Feeding America

Bill Moyers: Hunger in America (PBS)

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