My Brother’s Keeper

On occasion our local newspaper will accept one of my Op-Ed’s for publication. Below is one that was written last week, though the paper changed the title from “My Brother’s Keeper” to “Local food banks are bulwark against hunger during pandemic” which seems a bit lengthy.

Appearing in today’s Opinion section of the Chicago suburbs’ newspaper, The Daily Herald, December 15, 2020.

My Brother’s Keeper

Hundreds of stories have appeared in a wide array of media, written over the course of this year about the needs of families that have been impoverished by the onslaught of Covid-19. Some of the overwhelming statistics include the fact that 17 million children go to bed hungry each night, 50 million Americans are uncertain where they might find their next meal, and the number of people who fall below the poverty line is increasing daily.

Most of these folks are not begging for food because it is not how our culture works. Many are proud and would rather face the difficulties of hunger without saying anything. Still, when the needs of one’s children outweigh the stigma some people feel, food banks are there to help. It was only a few months ago while filling up my cart at Costco that I realized I could buy a few extra items to take to a local food distribution center. Since then, each time I walk up and down the aisles of a food store, I make sure to pick up a case of canned corn or tomato sauce or canned fruit or even all of them to bring to a food distribution center.

My distribution center of choice happens to be the Fremont Township Center on Route 60 in Mundelein since it is near where I live. But there are over a hundred such places in the Chicagoland area, and thousands around the country, each one with a slightly different approach but all helping with the ultimate goal of solving the problem of hunger. Even with my donations and the donations of many others throughout our area, we are only building a small wall to keep out a tsunami of need.

I am not a religious person, but there are times when I feel that I can learn from the text of the Bible. One such example appears in Genesis: And the Lord said unto Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” And he said, “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Unfortunately, this quote has been used many times to justify the politics of isolationism or to turn our backs on the needs of our neighbors. We all have to ask ourselves, “Are we our brother’s keeper?”

We currently live in a culture that is at war with itself. The politics embodied in the factions of left versus right, rich versus poor, black versus white are tearing at the fabric of our nation. But I believe there are solutions to certain problems where we can agree, where we can find that elusive common ground. One of those issues is about helping each other by at least partially being our brother’s keeper and by making sure that the children of this country do not go to bed hungry. The problem of hunger is not about race or political ideology. It is about the basic needs of our neighbors, the folks we pass on the street whose faces bely a quiet desperation. Perhaps some of them are people with whom we have had business dealings or chatted with in a parking lot. They are not strangers, they are versions of ourselves, people just like us who have fallen on difficult times.

Especially around this time of year, we are fortunate that many people do understand this need and will donate either funds or food to homeless shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens. But it is critically important to keep in mind that December is just a single month out of the year. In addition, food is only one of the needs. Personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and many other non-food items are not covered by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and yet are extremely necessary for the well being of any family.

The desire to donate to various organizations during the Holiday season is wonderful, but my hope is that many of us will continue to purchase cases of non-perishable and household items for donating each time we go shopping, regardless of the season. Every can of soup, every tube of toothpaste or bag of pasta will make a difference. We all need to do what we can to make a difference.

If you want to find out where to donate in your community and discover which items are most in need, you can go to www.feedingamerica.org and click on the Find a Food Bank link or you can just type “Food Banks Near Me” into your search engine.