The newspaper headlines send shivers down the backs of everyday Americans hoping for a break from this wicked economy. Not bad enough that unemployment is still high, that home prices are rising, and that good people still cannot break out of their slumps and meet the challenges for themselves and their families living basic lives. The New York Times ran an article last week by William Neuman, “Food Prices Likely to Start Ticking Up“, where economists and United States Department of Agriculture statisticians in unison claim that inflation and conditions will certainly drive food back up again, that ranchers, having culled their herds to meet the previously declining demand will now raise fees to accommodate the need, and that groceries will now trend back upward with prices.
This comes without any real headway in the homes and wallets of Middle Americans, who had been plagued with job loss, unmanageable debt and even the loss of homes. The same day the paper ran the article on food, it ran another one on the Obama Administration’s dire recognition – or admission – that the national deficit will in-fact, be $2 trillion more than they were presuming while politicking, “Estimate for 10-Year Deficit Raised to $9 Trillion.” Whether one voted for Obama or McCain matters less right now than the sheer fact that Americans are facing more difficult times to come. At the heart of the woes will be food and need; when people are hungry, it is hard to concentrate on everything else. Faith, family and sometimes ethics can be cast aside by otherwise enlightened masses foraging for morsels to feed their children and themselves. When it comes down to it, one can only wonder where the help lies and what can be done.
In a perfect world, easy answers would come in the form of collective will, building toward a solution. Instead, food companies, grocery stores and distributors seem more interested in relying on basic human need to push the margins of their ledger books. It is not inherently bad, as the economy moves when money is spent, manufacturing is brisk and people are at work. Yet, it is easier to acquiesce to the trends when it is an automobile or an iPod that is being built; Items that fill a void or want, not a necessity of need. Food ought to be treated different than that, at least basic sustenance. In the book of the 8th-century BC Judean prophet Isaiah we are told that if we offer ourselves on “behalf of the hungry and answer the needs of the oppressed, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will become bright as day.” Is there no more noble calling then making certain those who need food are fed, and in doing so, playing a role in repairing the world?
The solution is clear and very real, as we have people and organizations committed to doing just that; feeding those searching for the hand up. On the porch steps of a simple house in Monroe, Georgia some 15 years ago, a simple pastor presumed large, and believed that if people in his small mill town where opportunity was scarce and hope was in even shorter supply, were fed, they could rise above the economic and social adversities and rebuild faithfully and proud. Pastor Joseph Wingo fed 34 families by buying food in bulk, coupon shopping and seeking the close-out deals, and tried to give it away; yet, he was bewildered when no one came that first day. He talks of pride by saying that there is good pride and bad, the good being the reason we shower and groom ourselves, and the bad being too proud to take a hand up when offered.
Wingo tallied up his cost on the food and placed a nominal charge on the packages he assembled to make it affordable. He sold the 34 boxes and the people returned for more. The coop that now operates in 44 states and in over 5000 communities, Angel Food Ministries, was born. Wingo even had money left over to donate back to the churches that helped bring people to his porch. Offering proteins and nutrition for a price people could afford and returning what has amounted to $25 million over 15 years so far, has proven to be the system that works in any economy, and one that is needed in a fragile economy.
This coop concept takes nothing from anyone, offers a useful benefit and returns benevolence into thousands of communities, and it generates income enough to employ about 300 people. It would seem that there is a partial solution for people to manage through these times. Food prices do not need to rise, nor does the rising deficit mean that people cannot access the basics. When we read the news tomorrow, maybe a model as this one could lead the headlines.
Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR